SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- The flu (or influenza) is a highly contagious virus that causes widespread illness every year.
- Immunisation and practising prevention measures are the best ways we can protect against the flu and reduce the number of flu infections and deaths.
- Yearly immunisation is strongly recommended for older people and anyone who is at risk of serious complications from the flu.
- Influenza immunisation is recommended for all people from 6 months of age
- People who work or live with people who are at risk of serious complications should also be immunised to avoid spreading the flu.
- The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu because it does not contain any live virus.
- You must wait at least 7 days (1 week) between getting your flu vaccine and your COVID-19 vaccine.
Immunisation provides protection against influenza and helps reduce the number of influenza infections and deaths. Good hand hygiene, cough etiquette and staying home when unwell also help prevent the spread of influenza.
Who should be immunised against flu (influenza)?
Immunisation for the flu is recommended for everyone aged 6 months and over.
Some people are more at risk of complications from influenza and are eligible for free vaccination.
People with an underlying medical condition or reduced immunity are most at risk and should be immunised against influenza. They include:
- anyone aged 65 years and older
- pregnant women (at any stage of pregnancy)
- all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged from 6 months and over
- people 6 months or older with:
- children on long-term aspirin therapy from 6 months to 10 years
- children aged from 6 months to under 5 years.
Immunisation is also recommended (but not necessarily free) for other people such as:
- those who work with or live in close contact with people with an underlying medical condition or reduced immunity, such as:
- health care workers
- staff in long-term care facilities or nursing homes
- people who live with, or care for someone who has a chronic illness or is aged over 65 years
- carers of homeless people
- workers, particularly those in workplaces that provide essential services
- people who work with children
- people with
- people who are obese (BMI greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2)
- people who are addicted to alcohol
- people who are homeless
- residents in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities
- people involved in the commercial poultry and pig industry
- people who provide essential community services
- anyone visiting parts of the world where influenza is circulating, especially if travelling in a group.
How the flu (influenza) vaccine works
The flu viruses change every year because the influenza virus has a unique ability to change its surface structure. This means that even if you had influenza or an immunisation one year, your body’s immune system might be unable to fight the changed version of the virus that will be circulating the following year.
Each year, a new vaccine is developed (usually called the seasonal vaccine) and is available for those who wish to be immunised. The seasonal flu vaccine includes protection against four strains of influenza.
Recent evidence suggests optimal protection against the flu occurs within the first 3-4 months following vaccination.
Annual vaccination is recommended
Annual vaccination before the onset of each flu season is recommended. In most parts of Australia, this occurs from June to September.
Immunisation from April provides protection before the peak season. While the flu continues to circulate, it is never too late to vaccinate.
The flu vaccine cannot give you influenza because it does not contain live virus. Some people may still contract the flu because the vaccine may not always protect against all strains of the flu virus circulating in the community.
Who can get the flu (influenza) vaccine?
In Victoria, an annual vaccination against influenza is free for:
- children aged 6 months to less than 5 years
- people who have medical conditions that put them at risk of serious complications of influenza
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from 6 months and over
- pregnant women – at any stage of pregnancy
- people 65 years and over.
Contact your doctor or immunisation provider for further information about eligibility. People not covered by these categories can also have an annual flu immunisation, but it is not available for free.
Flu vaccines for different ages
Age restrictions apply to all influenza vaccine brands. There are formulations for people under 65 years and a formulation for people 65 years and older.
Check with your immunisation provider that the right formulation is used for your age or someone in your care.
Pregnancy and influenza immunisation
are at increased risk of complications from influenza. Influenza vaccine is strongly recommended and safe for pregnant women at any time during pregnancy. It can also be safely given while breastfeeding.
Influenza vaccination of pregnant women also protects infants against influenza for the first 6 months after birth due to transplacental transfer of antibodies from the vaccinated woman to the unborn baby.
People who need more than one flu (influenza) vaccine a year
There are some people who are recommended to have a second dose of the influenza vaccine within the space of one year.
- Children less than 9 years receiving their influenza vaccine for the first time require 2 doses 4 weeks apart for an adequate immune response.
- People who have had a haematopoietic stem cell transplant or solid organ transplant and are receiving influenza vaccine for the first time after transplant.
- Pregnant women, who may be vaccinated with the next season’s influenza vaccine if it becomes available in the latter part of their pregnancy, even if they were vaccinated with the previous season’s vaccine prior to or earlier in pregnancy.
- Overseas travellers, who may benefit from a second dose of this season’s influenza vaccine if going to the northern hemisphere winter and receiving the northern hemisphere formulation there is not feasible.
Please check with your GP to find out whether you fall into one of these categories.
The flu shot and COVID-19 Vaccine
An important update regarding timing between receiving the flu and COVID-19 vaccines for all Victorians including those most vulnerable in our community.
The original recommended timing between receipt of the 2 vaccines was a preferred minimum interval of 2 weeks (14 days).
Based on the latest medical advice the preferred minimum interval between vaccinations for COVID-19 and the flu is now 7 days.
The flu pre-immunisation checklist
- have had your COVID-19 vaccine in the last 14 days
- are unwell (have a temperature over 38.5°C)
- have had a serious reaction to any vaccine
- have had a severe allergy to anything
- are under 6 months
- have had .
Possible side effects of the flu (influenza) vaccine
The influenza vaccine can cause side effects. In children under 5 years, these reactions may be more obvious.
Common side effects of influenza vaccine include:
- drowsiness or tiredness
- muscle aches
- localised pain, redness and swelling at the injection site
- occasionally, an injection-site lump (nodule) that may last many weeks but needs no treatment
- low-grade temperature (fever).
Managing side effects after immunisation
are usually mild and temporary (occurring in the first 2 days after vaccination). Specific treatment is not usually required. There are several treatment options that can reduce the side effects of the vaccine including:
- Drinking extra fluids and not overdressing if there is a fever.
- Although routine use of paracetamol after vaccination is not recommended, if pain and fever are present, paracetamol can be given – check the label for the correct dose or speak with your pharmacist (especially when giving paracetamol to children).
Concerns about side effects
If the side effect following immunisation is unexpected, persistent, or severe, or if you are worried about yourself or your child’s condition after a vaccination, see your doctor or immunisation nurse as soon as possible or go directly to a hospital.
You can discuss how to report problems in other states or territories with your immunisation provider.
If you are unwell with flu-like symptoms, contact the COVID-19 hotline on 1800 675 398 (24 hours, 7 days a week) or your GP to check if you require COVID-19 testing.
Rare side effects of the flu vaccine
There is a very small risk of a serious allergic reaction () to any vaccine. This is why you are advised to stay at the clinic or medical surgery for at least 15 minutes following vaccination in case further treatment is required.
A small increase in Guillain-Barré syndrome was seen in the US in 1976, but since that time, surveillance has shown that it is limited to one case for every million doses of influenza vaccine, if at all.
If any other reactions are severe and persistent, or if you are worried, contact your doctor for further information.
Where to get help
- In an emergency, always call triple zero (000)
- Emergency department of your nearest hospital
- Your local government immunisation service
- (24 hours) Tel.
- Tel. – for expert health information and advice (24 hours, 7 days)
- , Department of Health, Victorian Government Tel.
- National Immunisation Hotline Tel.
- Tel. (option 1) – the line is attended between 9am and 4pm and you can leave a message at all other time