Flu (influenza) – Immunisation
The Victorian Governments Better Health Channel provides up to date health information for all members of the community. This news bulletin covers information about the 2020 Influenza vaccine. For more information please go to their website www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving
During the COVID pandemic, it is important that the community continues to have their annual flu immunisations, especially if you are an at risk population group.
- Influenza is a highly contagious virus that causes widespread illness every year.
- Immunisation is the most important way we can protect against the flu and reduce the number of flu infections and deaths.
- Yearly immunisation is strongly recommended for older people and other people who are at risk of serious complications from the flu.
- Influenza immunisation is recommended for all people from six 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 vaccine cannot give you the flu because it does not contain any live virus.
Immunisation is the best possible protection against influenza. It is the most important way we can reduce the number of influenza infections and deaths.
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is caused by a highly contagious virus that is spread by contact with fluids from coughs and sneezes. Every year, influenza causes widespread illness in the community.
An influenza epidemic occurs when an outbreak of the illness is widespread in a certain community. A pandemic occurs when the illness is more geographically widespread and on more than one continent. Influenza epidemics occur, on average, every three years. Pandemics have occurred only four times in the past 100 years.
Who should be immunised against influenza?
Immunisation is recommended for everyone aged six 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 six months and over
- people aged six months or older with:
- heart disease
- chronic lung disease (including people with severe asthma who require frequent hospital visits)
- chronic neurological conditions
- impaired immunity
- blood disorders caused by genetic changes
- kidney disease
- children aged from six months to under five years of age.
How the influenza vaccine works
Influenza 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 influenza vaccine includes protection against four strains of influenza.
Recent evidence suggests optimal protection against influenza occurs within the first three to four months following vaccination. Annual vaccination before the onset of each influenza season is recommended. In most parts of Australia this occurs from June to September. Immunisation from April provides protection before the peak season. While influenza continues to circulate, it is never too late to vaccinate.
The influenza vaccine cannot give you influenza because it does not contain live virus. Some people may still contract influenza because the vaccine may not always protect against all strains of the influenza virus circulating in the community.
An annual influenza vaccination is provided through the National Immunisation Program for most people in the community who are at an increased risk of serious complications. In Victoria, an annual vaccination against influenza is free for:
- children aged six months to less than five years of age
- people who have medical conditions that put them at risk of serious complications of influenza
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged from six months and over
- pregnant women – at any stage of pregnancy
- people 65 years and over.
Contact your doctor or immunisation provider for further information.
More detailed information is available on the Better Health website.
Updated April 2019