When should I get a flu shot, and how long does it last?
Everyone aged 6 months and older should have a flu vaccination once a year to help protect them against the flu virus. There are several factors you should consider when deciding the best time to get vaccinated. As with all personal medical decisions, you should speak to your GP or pharmacist about what is right for you.
You can catch the flu at any time of the year, though the peak flu season is typically around August. Because the flu shot is most effective for 3 to 4 months following vaccination, getting vaccinated in April may give you maximum protection during the predicted peak of the season. However, since the start, end, and peak of the flu season can be unpredictable and vary each year, it may be advisable to get vaccinated as soon as flu vaccines become available (typically mid-late March).
Because available vaccines may be updated to offer protection against the flu strains in circulation, and also since protection provided by flu vaccines decreases over time, it’s recommended to be re-vaccinated every year.
When are flu vaccines available?
Typically, the current year’s flu vaccine starts to become available from mid-late March. Your GP or pharmacist can advise you when to come in to get your flu shot for a given year.
Where can I get the flu vaccine?
You can ask your GP or a local pharmacist for a flu shot. Vaccinations are also offered at:
- Travel medicine clinics;
- Public hospitals;
- Staff occupational health clinics;
- Aged care facilities; and
- Certain workplaces.
Can a flu vaccine give me the flu?
You cannot get the flu from a flu shot. This is because all flu vaccines used in Australia are ‘inactivated’, which means they do not contain the live flu virus — so you can't catch the flu from the vaccine.
How safe are flu vaccines?
Vaccines are rigorously tested and monitored for safety. Millions of vaccinations are given each year, and severe adverse reactions are infrequent.
Most side-effects from the flu vaccine are mild and last up to one or two days. They may include:
- Pain, redness, swelling or hardness at the injection site.
- Fever, tiredness, body aches. These may feel similar to flu symptoms, but they are not the flu.
There are other risks that are rare and manageable, such as a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. It is important to tell the person administering your vaccine about any severe allergic reactions you have had to medicines and if you have previously experienced Guillain-Barré syndrome. Also, tell them if you are feeling unwell. Your health care provider will monitor you for 15 minutes after your flu shot and will have first aid treatment if you experience an allergic reaction. Don’t hesitate to ask your health care professional for advice if you are concerned about a side-effect from any medicine, including your flu shot.
How does the flu vaccine work? What does it do to your body?
Flu vaccines are designed to help your body to create antibodies that help your immune system protect you from the flu or reduce the severity of your symptoms if you become infected.
In Australia, recommendations for which flu strains to include in the vaccine are made every year by the Australian Influenza Vaccine Committee. To make their decision, the experts on this committee review which strains have been recently circulating.
Can I have the flu vaccine while pregnant?
As with all personal medical decisions, you should speak to your GP or pharmacist about what is right for you. However, in Australia flu vaccines are strongly recommended for pregnant women and are funded under the national immunisation program. Women can receive the flu vaccine during any stage of pregnancy.
Should I get a flu shot?
The Australian Immunisation Handbook issued by the Department of Health recommends that everyone older than 6 months of age get vaccinated against the flu every year. Vaccination against the flu can reduce your chance of getting the flu or the severity of symptoms if you do get it. As with all personal medical decisions, you should speak to your GP or pharmacist who will be able to give information specific to your circumstances to assist you in making a decision about flu vaccines and how best to protect yourself against the flu.
Vaccination is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of the flu. However, there are other things you can also do to help reduce your risk. Talk to your GP or pharmacist about flu vaccines and how you can protect yourself against the flu.