Influenza is one of the unpleasant realities of the cooler season. Caused by a virus, the flu usually spreads from person to person through the air by coughing, sneezing or talking, or though touching hands, surfaces or objects.
For most healthy adults, the flu means a painful week in bed with a fever, headache and aching joints – but in some cases it can be more serious, and even fatal. Protecting yourself against the virus with a flu shot at the start of each winter is advisable for all Australians.
For those with a higher risk of complications from the flu (such as the elderly, young children, people with certain medical conditions including diabetes, and those who are pregnant) the flu vaccine is particularly important.
How does the flu vaccine work?
The flu vaccine is made from influenza virus that has been specially grown, killed (deactivated) and purified. The vaccine tricks the body into thinking it has been invaded and stimulates the immune system to act.
The body then creates antibodies; proteins that recognise and fight off germs. This means if you catch the flu virus after you have been immunised, your body will recognise it and be able to immediately produce the right antibodies to fight it.
It may take up to two weeks for your immunity to build up fully after you have had the flu vaccine, which is why it’s recommended to get your shot early on in the cooler season.
Common flu shot myths
Myth: You can catch the flu from the vaccine
This is one of the biggest myths about the vaccine. There is no live virus in the shot, so it can’t cause you to get the flu. A small percentage of people may experience side effects such as fever and headache that mimic flu symptoms, but these effects are usually mild and should resolve themselves within a few days. Generally, any reactions will occur within a few hours of vaccination and last no longer than 24 to 48 hours.
Remember, the flu shot can take two weeks to become fully effective, so you can still catch the flu in that period – but the vaccination itself will not be the cause.
Myth: If you had a flu shot last year, you're still protected
You need a new flu vaccination each year because immunity decreases over time, and the composition of the vaccine changes from year to year to protect against the strains that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season.
The flu vaccine is offered for free to:
- anyone aged 65 and over
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 and over
- pregnant women
- children aged from 6 months to under five years old
- people with heart disease, severe asthma and chronic lung conditions
- people with diseases of the nervous system, diabetes and some other medical conditions.
It’s important to remember that the flu vaccination does not protect your family against coronavirus, so the Australian Government recommends getting both the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine. The Australian Government is implementing a phased rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine with certain groups prioritised first, find out more here.
For more information, visit health.gov.au/immunisation
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