Thinking About a Flu Vaccination? Read This First

Your most-asked vaccination questions answered.

You want to stay healthy so you're thinking about a flu vaccination. But is the flu jab worth the trouble, the money and even the small amount of discomfort it's likely to cause? The short answer is yes, says Dr Magdalena Simonis, general practitioner at the Royal Australian Collage of General Practitioners. “Not only does the flu shot reduce your risk of getting the flu, but it also helps the community,” she says.

While there are a lot of misconceptions about the flu shot, Dr Simonis says the first step is to have a conversation with your trusted GP or health professional.

In the meantime, here’s everything you need to know about the vaccine.

Is the Vaccine Safe?

Immunisation is the most effective way to reduce your risk of flu-related illness. Although it can cause a range of side effects -- including fatigue, muscle aches, localised pain and fever -- the risk of serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) is rare.

The new enhanced vaccines are also specifically targeted at the virus strains that were most prevalent last year. While some people may still get the flu, Dr Simonis says it’s important to have the jab every year to reduce the severity of your symptoms. But if you are still unsure whether it’s right for you, talk to your GP.

Getting vaccinated can reduce the severity of your flu symptoms. Image: Getty.
Who Should Get It?

While the vaccine cuts down everyone's risk of coming down with the flu, Dr Simonis says there are certain people who are more susceptible to the virus and should be immunised. “This includes anyone aged 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people who have underlying chronic disease such as asthma, diabetes and renal disease.”

The flu vaccine is equally recommended for young children aged six months and older. “It’s also recommended for children over the age of three,” Dr Simonis says. “We now have special types of vaccinations to protect children if they are in childcare and primary school.”

Which Vaccine is Best?

Aside from the special formulation for children under three years of age and a stronger formulation for people aged 65 years and older, Dr Simonis says there’s not much difference between one shot and the other. “The current vaccines are “quadrivalent” – meaning they have four different strains of the flu virus in the one vaccine.”

As an added bonus, the vaccine is free for those most at risk. “This includes those over 65 and people with an underlying chronic disease. Other eligible groups include anyone who has previously had respiratory disease, such and pneumonia and cystic fibrosis, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

It’s now recommended people get vaccinated sometime in May onward. Image: Getty.
When Should I Get It?

You can get the vaccine at any time throughout the flu season, but as Dr Simonis explains, timing is everything. “It’s now recommended that people get vaccinated from sometime in May onward, because we now know the vaccine doesn’t necessarily last for more than about four to five months in terms of protection.”

People who get vaccinated too early in autumn might have lost protection later in the season when the virus has mutated. “You really need to be covered for the peak flu season, otherwise it sort of wanes in its effectiveness after a period of time. So racing out to have the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available probably isn’t the best idea,” she says.

Is It Total Protection?

While the flu vaccine doesn’t provide complete protection, Dr Simonis says any protection is better than none at all. Just be aware that, regardless of what any sales assistant may suggest, you don’t need to take the vaccine with any other product.

“Studies show that taking over-the-counter products, such as Echinacea, vitamin C, or any other recommended preparation will not boost your immune system. What boosts your immune system is maintaining a healthy diet that’s varied – consisting of five to six fruits and vegetables a day, and getting enough sleep,” she says.

Feature image: Getty.