2015 flu vaccine: navigating the choices

With two influenza (flu) vaccine formulations available this winter, NPS MedicineWise is reporting a spike in calls to its Medicines Line from consumers confused about the difference between the two options.

Manager of the NPS MedicineWise Medicines Line Sarah Spagnardi says it's understandable that people are asking questions about what is right for them, given that there are more options available to help combat the upcoming flu season.

"There is some confusion about the difference between the 2015 vaccine formulations. Basically one vaccine formulation protects against three strains of flu, while the other protects against the same three and also contains an additional strain – so four strains in total," she says.

"You'll hear these referred to as 'trivalent' (three strain) and 'quadrivalent' (four strain) vaccines.

"As this is the first year a quadrivalent flu vaccine has been available in Australia, a common question to the Medicines Line has been whether one vaccine is better than the other," says Ms Spagnardi.

"Having the extra influenza B strain in the quadrivalent vaccine may provide extra protection, but this of course depends on the influenza strains circulating within the community."

The trivalent (three strain) vaccine is free for certain people

The standard trivalent vaccine will cover the main circulating flu strains, and is provided free for at-risk groups eligible under the government's National Immunisation Program, including:

  • pregnant women
  • persons aged 65 years and older
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 6 months to under 5, or 15 years and older
  • people with specified medical conditions that put them at increased risk of flu complications.

For those not eligible for free vaccination, this vaccine is also available for purchase.

The quadrivalent (four strain) vaccine will require payment

The new quadrivalent vaccine is not government-funded, so there is a cost involved. People will need to decide if they should pay extra to be protected against the four flu strains in this year's quadrivalent vaccine, which adds protection against an additional influenza B strain.

Flu vaccines are available now

Influenza can lead to serious illness including pneumonia, sometimes requiring hospitalisation and may even lead to death, so the flu vaccine is an important preventive step to consider.

"While we are encouraging callers to speak to their doctor for advice about these different vaccination options, the main message is that for those at risk, a flu vaccine will greatly reduce their chance of contracting the flu — and therefore also reduce the risk of acquiring any follow-on 'secondary' infections," says Ms Spagnardi.

It is best to book an appointment with a health professional as soon as possible, before the winter flu season begins.

To ensure continuing protection against influenza, people vaccinated in 2014 still need to be vaccinated in 2015 as the flu strains expected in the community are different this year.

Medicines Line also receives questions every year about the potential side effects of the flu vaccine.

"While it's important to remember you can't catch the flu from the flu vaccine, some people who receive the flu vaccine may experience common but usually short-lived side effects, including localised pain, redness and swelling, a mild fever, muscle pain or joint pain, and fatigue or tiredness," says Ms Spagnardi.

"However, if you are concerned about a side effect you are experiencing, you can talk to your doctor, or call the Adverse Medicine Events (AME) Line on 1300 134 237 to discuss and report it."

Information about flu vaccines as well as more general information about vaccination can be found on the NPS MedicineWise Vaccines and immunisation knowledge hub at www.nps.org.au/vaccines

For more information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, 'natural', vitamins and minerals) from a health professional, call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) . Hours of operation are Monday–Friday 9am–5pm AEST (excluding public holidays).


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

If you are a journalist seeking comment on a story or more information on any of our programs or campaigns please contact: Elisabeth Bowdler or Stephanie Childs on 02 8217 8667, 0419 618 365 or ebowdler@nps.org.au / schilds@nps.org.au