Update by Dr Esther Tham 8/5/2019 (resourced from Healthdirect.gov.au)
Notifications of confirmed influenza have been much higher so far this year compared to the same period last year. So now is a very good time to think about getting a flu shot. Vaccination is your best chance for protection against the flu, and it helps protect the people around you who are not able to have a flu shot (such as babies aged less than 6 months).
Strains of the flu change constantly, which is why we need a new vaccine every year to guard against this often-debilitating illness.
Immunity against the flu following vaccination does wear off after some time. Most people will develop immunity 2 to 3 weeks after their flu shot. And it provides the best protection against the flu within 3 to 4 months of being vaccinated.
Flu season in Australia usually runs from June to September, peaking in August. Now is the ideal time to consider a flu shot. We can recommend the best time to get the flu shot based on your individual circumstances. Ultimately, being vaccinated at any time is better than not at all.
You are entitled to a free flu shot and stock is available at the surgery for:
- Adults aged 65 and over
- Adults and children (aged 6 months and over) with certain chronic medical conditions
- Pregnant women — during any stage of pregnancy. (This also provides some protection for the baby.)
In the interest of setting the record straight, here are 4 bits of good news that challenge some of the more common flu myths:
1. You can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine
The flu vaccine definitely does not give you the flu, nor does it give you a little bit of the (live) influenza virus. All influenza vaccines used in Australia are made from the deactivated ‘shell’ of the flu virus. Think of it like the body of a car – imagine the shell of a car without the motor, so it doesn’t actually run. Some people confuse normal responses to the flu vaccine as symptoms of the flu, such as swelling, redness and pain at the injection site, and fever, tiredness and muscle aches. These side effects are common and can last 1 to 2 days, and they show that the vaccine is triggering an immune response – which is what it’s designed to do.
2. You can’t get the flu from being cold
Your parents may have warned you about going outside without a coat or going to bed with wet hair, but feeling cold doesn’t cause the flu (or the common cold). The only way to catch influenza is to be exposed to the virus, via tiny droplets of mucus that are coughed or sneezed into the air or transmitted through touch.Cold and flu season happens to coincide with the colder months, though experts aren’t sure why. We do know, however, that wintry weather forces people indoors more often – where they’re more likely to be in close proximity with infectious people.
3. People with egg allergy can be vaccinated against the flu
The influenza vaccine is grown in eggs. But the traces of egg protein that remain after the vaccine is made are so tiny that the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) says people and children with egg allergy can be safely vaccinated against the flu. The risk of anaphylaxis in response to the influenza vaccine is very low, estimated at 1.35 cases per 1 million doses. It’s also rare for people with egg allergy to experience other adverse effects, such as hives, wheezing, vomiting or abdominal pain after getting the flu injection. If you’re still concerned, ask your doctor if you, or your child, can be observed by staff for 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine (versus the recommended 15 minutes for any patient).
4. The flu vaccine is a good idea – even if you’ve never had the flu before
You might think, ‘I’ve never had the flu and I’m healthy, so I don’t need the flu shot’, but there is no way of predicting who will catch influenza – or who will become seriously ill from it. The flu can cause hospitalisation and even death; on average, around 100 deaths and 5,100 hospitalisations are reported each year in Australia, and more cases go unreported.
Even if a person is not badly affected by the flu, it’s pretty inconvenient, causing people and children to miss time from work, school or childcare because they’re too sick to attend. Being vaccinated against the flu also helps protect people around you; if you can’t catch the flu, then you can’t spread the infection. It’s important to protect vulnerable people in the community who aren’t able to get the shot, such as babies aged less than 6 months and adults with low immunity.