Flu vaccine frequently asked questions
Why is the flu vaccine recommended?
Annual vaccination against seasonal flu can reduce your chances of getting the flu and can also reduce the severity of flu symptoms if you do catch the flu.
Who should be vaccinated?
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends annual flu vaccination for any person aged 6 months or older who wishes to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill with flu.
Am I eligible for the free flu vaccine?
Under the National Immunisation Program the flu vaccine is free and strongly recommended for the following groups:
- people aged 65 years and over
- pregnant women (including those in the first trimester)
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over
- people six months of age or older with the following underlying chronic medical conditions:
- cardiac disease
- chronic respiratory conditions including severe asthma
- other chronic illnesses requiring regular medical follow up, for example diabetes and chronic renal (kidney) failure
- chronic neurological conditions
- people with impaired immunity, including HIV infection
- children on long term aspirin therapy
- residents of nursing homes and residential care facilities
- homeless people and those providing care to them.
More information on the Annual Seasonal Funded Influenza Program Guidelines is available on the Communicable Disease Control Branch (Immunisation Section) website.
What if I am not eligible for the free flu vaccine?
If you are not eligible to receive a free flu vaccine, your doctor can write a prescription for you to collect your vaccine from your local pharmacy for a small fee. The doctor may also charge a consultation fee. It is recommended you collect the vaccine immediately prior to your doctor’s appointment as the vaccine needs to be kept between 2°C and 8°C at all times to be effective.
Although the flu vaccine is not free for the following people, it is strongly recommended:
- health care workers
- anyone who works in a nursing home or long term care facility
- anyone who lives in a household with a person who is in a high risk category
- people providing essential services, for example police or ambulance officers
Where can I get vaccinated?
The flu vaccination is available though your local doctor. A number of local council clinics also provide flu vaccinations at low cost.
How much will the vaccine cost?
The cost of the flu vaccine can vary ranging from $15 to $25. Contact your doctor, local council or pharmacy for more information.
When should I be vaccinated?
The best time for you to be vaccinated against the flu is in autumn (around March/April), before the flu season starts. The vaccination usually takes up to two weeks to be effective, so the sooner the better.
How often do I need to be vaccinated?
It is recommended that you be vaccinated against flu every year as the different strains of flu virus can change from year to year. This ensures you are protected against the most recent flu virus strains.
Even if the main flu strains do not change, yearly vaccination is still recommended as immunity from flu vaccination is not long lasting.
How effective is the flu vaccine?
No vaccine is 100% effective but evidence shows that the seasonal flu vaccine provides a good level of protection (around 70% to 90%) in healthy people. The vaccination usually takes up to two weeks to be effective and lasts for up to a year.
If you have been vaccinated against flu and you happen to catch the flu, you usually experience a less severe illness and may be less likely to develop other health complications from the flu.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
No vaccine is 100% safe but the viruses in the flu vaccine are inactivated (killed) and cannot cause the flu. If you develop the flu soon after having the vaccine, generally it is because you have been infected before the vaccine has had time to take effect.
After the vaccination, you may still get the flu but you will experience a milder case than those who were not vaccinated. You may also experience mild flu-like symptoms for up to 48 hours after the flu shot as your immune system responds to the vaccine.
If you have any allergies or are concerned about the potential side effects of the flu vaccine please discuss this with your doctor or immunisation provider before you have the vaccination. Immunisation providers are trained to ask about potential allergic reactions before giving the vaccine and to treat such reactions if they occur following the vaccination.
Is the flu vaccine safe if I'm pregnant?
The seasonal flu vaccine is recommended in all stages of pregnancy and has been given safely to millions of women across the world. Studies looking at the effects of pregnant women receiving the seasonal flu vaccination indicate no negative effects on pregnant women or their babies.
Please see our flu vaccine and pregnancy frequently asked questions for more information.
Are there any side effects from the vaccine?
Like any medication, some people may experience an unexpected reaction to the flu vaccine. Common side effects following seasonal flu vaccination include:
- pain, redness and swelling at the injection site
- low grade temperature
- headache or muscle aches
- drowsiness or tiredness
- generally feeling unwell
- a temporary small lump at the injection site
- loss of appetite and irritability
- nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
Most side effects are minor, last a short time, resolve without any treatment and do not lead to any long-term problems. Generally, mild reactions begin within six to 12 hours. As with any medication, very rarely will you have a severe allergic reaction which will usually occur within 15 minutes of receiving a vaccine. Due to this, it is important for you to wait for 15 minutes after receiving your vaccine before leaving.
Your vaccine provider will advise you of the potential side effects of having the flu vaccine and what you should do if you have a reaction.
What should I do if I experience any side effects?
In most cases these side effects will be mild and resolve without any treatment.
If an infant or child develops a fever above 38.5°C following vaccination, paracetamol can be given. If a high temperature above 38.5°C persists, contact your doctor or seek medical assistance.
If you are concerned or unsure about any symptoms you or your child are experiencing following the flu vaccination you can:
- call Health Direct Australia on 1800 022 222 for 24 hour health information advice
- seek immediate medical attention and advice from your doctor
- go to a hospital Emergency Department or
- call an Ambulance by phoning 000.
What do I do if I have a reaction (adverse event) to the flu vaccine?
Any adverse event you or your child experiences as a consequence of the flu vaccine can be reported to SA Health by contacting 1300 CDCB SA (1300 232 272) during business hours.
In South Australia, the following people can report an adverse event:
- health care professionals
Should I have the vaccination if I previously suffered an immediate allergic reaction?
No. If you have previously had a severe and immediate allergic reaction to the flu vaccination you should not have the flu vaccine again.
If you are unsure discuss this with your doctor, immunisation provider or the Immunisation Section, SA Health on phone 1300 CDCB SA (1300 232 272).
Why do some children have stronger reactions to the flu vaccine than adults?
Children tend to have stronger reactions to the flu vaccine than adults due to their smaller body and surface area. Your child (especially if under five year of age) may develop higher body temperatures than adults following the flu vaccine which, if left untreated can sometimes result in a febrile convulsion. If an infant or child develops a fever above 38.5°C following vaccination, paracetamol can be given. If a high temperature above 38.5°C persists, contact your doctor or seek medical assistance.
Why was the seasonal flu vaccine for children suspended in 2010?
The seasonal flu vaccine for healthy children under five years of age was temporarily suspended in Australia while an investigation was conducted following reports of high fevers and some febrile convulsions in children in this age group.
The outcomes of the investigation concluded that the adverse reactions to the flu vaccine for some children under 5 years of age was confined to one brand of flu vaccine.
Continued investigations in Australia and overseas concluded that two brands (Vaxigrip® or Influvac®) were safe for all children, including those medically at risk.
My child is under the age of nine. How many doses of seasonal flu vaccine are needed this year?
The number of flu vaccines that your child will need to have will depend on if your child has previously had the flu vaccination and how many times. Any child who is 9 years of age or younger and has:
- never had the flu vaccine before will need to have two doses at least 28 days apart this year
- previously had the flu vaccine but has not received 2 doses in the same year, will require two doses of flu vaccine this year
- previously had two doses in the same year will need just one this year.