Influenza (flu) vaccine
What is it for?
The flu vaccine protects you from getting flu (short for influenza), a common illness caused by the influenza viruses (A and B). The infection affects the nose, throat, bronchi (the two pipes at the end of the trachea that enter the lungs) and, occasionally, the lungs.
Flu is most common from late autumn to early spring but you can catch flu at any time of the year. Having a flu vaccination every year in autumn is recommended.
Each year the flu vaccine will be different, and will contain the most common strains of flu virus that are causing infection around the world that year. So even if you had a flu vaccination last year, to remain protected against flu this year, you will need to have the vaccination.
Help to stop flu from spreading
Protecting yourself from getting the flu will also protect others from being infected. This is because the flu virus can spread very easily from one person to another, usually when someone infected with the virus sneezes or coughs, releasing droplets that contain the virus into the air. These droplets can be breathed in by others, or transferred to anyone who may touch a contaminated surface.
The flu vaccine is given once every year in autumn, and is recommended for anyone older than 6 months who wants to be protected from getting flu.
The following groups include people who are strongly recommended to have the flu vaccine every year to protect themselves from flu and its complications, or spreading it to those who are considered at greater risk of experiencing a severe infection or complications.
Some of these at-risk groups are eligible for a free flu vaccination. Anyone who is not eligible can be vaccinated at their own cost.
Speak to your doctor or other health professional if you are unsure if influenza vaccination is recommended for you.
- Aged 6 months to 5 years.
- Aged 6 months and over who were born with heart or circulatory problems.
- Older than 6 months who need long-term aspirin treatment.
Children and adults
- With breathing problems due to severe asthma, lung disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- With conditions that affect breathing including multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, and seizure disorders.
- With a weakened immune system (e.g. due to HIV infection, cancer and some medicines).
- With type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
- With kidney disease.
- With Down syndrome.
- Who are obese (i.e. a BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2).
- Who are homeless.
- Travelling to countries where it is winter.
- Who are 65 years and older, and those living in aged-care facilities.
- Aged 15 years and older living in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
- Who are health workers, who care for children or older people, or who provide essential services
Flu vaccines can be given at any stage during pregnancy. It is recommended that you have the flu vaccine in autumn if you will be, or are planning to be, pregnant during winter.
Read more about what vaccines you can have if you are pregnant.
Women who are breastfeeding
There is no known risk to your baby if you are vaccinated with the flu vaccine while you are breastfeeding.
Women who are breastfeeding can be vaccinated with any vaccine except the yellow fever vaccine.
The flu vaccine is free every year for:
- pregnant women (at any stage of pregnancy)
- people aged 65 years and over
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 6 months to under 5 years (new age group added in 2015)
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 15 years or older
- anyone older than 6 months with any of the following medical conditions:
- heart disease
- severe asthma
- a long-term lung condition (e.g. cystic fibrosis)
- long-term illness requiring medical treatment or hospitalisation the previous year
- nervous system disorder (e.g. multiple sclerosis)
- a weakened immune system
- type 1 or type 2 diabetes
- children aged 6 months to 10 years on long-term aspirin treatment.
Find out more about who can have the free flu vaccine. Your health professional can also tell you if you are eligible.
It is important to note that while the flu vaccine may be free for you, your doctor may still charge a consultation fee.
Common* side effects of flu vaccines include:
- mild fever
- muscle tenderness or weakness (myalgia)
- soreness, redness and swelling at the injection site
- a lump at the injection site; this generally disappears after a few weeks and does not need treatment.
Most of these side effects may last 1 to 2 days after your vaccination. The side effects may be more severe in children who are younger than 5 years old (compared with older children and adults).
The flu vaccines used in Australia contain tiny amounts of egg proteins. This is because the viruses used in the vaccine are grown in live hens eggs. If you or your child have an allergy to egg proteins, you should tell your doctor.
*Common: 1 to 10 in every 100 people will experience these side effects.
Who can I ask about side effects?
If you’re concerned that you or your child may have had side effects related to a vaccine, seek medical advice. To report and discuss possible side effects, call the Adverse Medicines Events (AME) Line on 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm AEST).
Safety of flu vaccines for children
Flu vaccines can generally be given to children aged 6 months or older, with some available under the National Immunisation Program for eligible children.
The Fluvax vaccine is no longer given to children younger than 5 years of age as it may increase the risk of fever and febrile convulsions. Febrile convulsions have also been seen in children aged 5 to 9 years old, so the Fluvax vaccine will usually only be given to children in this age group if a suitable alternative is not available and after careful consideration.
Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
- Rossi S, ed. eAMH [online]. Adelaide: Australian Medicines Handbook, January 2013.
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Therapeutic Goods Administration. 2013 seasonal influenza vaccines. www.tga.gov.au/newsroom/media-2013-seasonal-flu-130228.htm
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Office of Health protection. Section 4.7. Influenza. www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/handbook10-4-7
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Immunise Australia Program. Questions and Answers for Influenza (flu) Vaccination 2013. www.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/Publishing.nsf/content/immunise-influenza-qanda#free