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Everything you need to know about the 2021 flu vaccine

7 minute read
A woman unwell with the flu in bed blowing her nose on tissues

You’re fit, healthy and haven’t had anything more serious than a chest cold in years. You’ve been socially distancing and following all the guidelines the Government has recommended – and with COVID-19, the flu is the last thing on your mind.

So do you really need to get a flu shot in 2021? Is it worth the hassle? According to nib Group Chief Medical Officer Dr Mellissa Naidoo, it’s an overwhelming yes.

“Getting a flu vaccine has become even more important during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr Naidoo says.

“You want to keep yourself and those around you as fit and healthy as possible, and vaccination against influenza is an important preventative tool to help you with this.”

To help you make an informed decision, we’ve answered some of the biggest questions you might have about this year’s flu vaccine.

We had a mild flu season last year. Does that mean it’s unlikely I’ll get the flu this year?

Thanks to social distancing and other preventative measures for COVID-19, in 2020 Australia witnessed one of the mildest flu seasons we’ve ever had, with flu cases dropping by more than 99%. Increased influenza vaccination was also one of the reasons for the low flu-rate in 2020.

In 2021, the situation is still far from normal, hence getting vaccinated against influenza is the most effective way to protect yourself. There’s also a possibility of a ‘rebound’ season this year. Reasons could be an absence of flu-related herd immunity or relaxation in COVID-19 related social distancing norms.

Can I get a flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?

It is not advisable to get a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine on the same day. COVID-19 vaccines should be given alone with a minimal interval of at least 14 days either before or after you get any other vaccines, including a flu vaccine.

In Australia, two COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be available in early to mid-2021. There is no order for receiving a flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccines; however, they do need to be substantially spaced apart. Your GP or other qualified health practitioner will be able to guide you on the best time to receive each vaccine.

Related: Your COVID-19 vaccine questions answered

A teenage boy getting a flu shot

Why should I get the flu shot?

To put it simply, the flu shot helps protect you against the flu.

The more people in the community who are vaccinated, the harder it is for the flu virus to spread. So by getting a flu shot, you are not only protecting yourself and those close to you, but also the wider community. It’s especially important to protect vulnerable people who cannot be vaccinated due to their age or other medical problems.

Related: How to stop everyone in your family from getting sick at the same time

What are my chances of getting the flu?

Each year, about 2-5% of people in Australian communities get the flu.

How does the flu spread?

The flu is very contagious, meaning that it can easily be passed from one person to another. Each person with the flu is estimated to infect another 1.3 people.

There are three ways that the influenza virus can spread:

  1. Airborne transmission. When infected people cough, talk or sneeze, the flu virus can pass into the air through droplets and then be breathed in by another person.
  2. Direct contact with an infected person. This could be through shaking hands, kissing or sharing food and drinks.
  3. Contact with contaminated objects. The influenza virus can live on hard surfaces such as door handles, rails and, benchtops for up to 24 hours. If you touch these contaminated surfaces or objects and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you can catch the flu.

Am I eligible for a free flu vaccination?

There are some groups of people who are known to be at increased risk of becoming very unwell if they get the flu. These people may have severe symptoms or develop complications from the flu, such as bronchitis, pneumonia, middle ear infection and sinusitis.

People at increased risk who are eligible for free vaccination under the National Immunisation Program include:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged six months and over
  • Children aged six months to less than five years
  • People with certain ongoing (chronic) medical conditions aged six months or older
  • Pregnant women (vaccination is safe at any time during pregnancy and gives protection to both mother and baby)
  • People aged 65 years or older

If you don’t fall into any of those categories, the cost can vary depending on the type of vaccine, formula and where you purchase it from. You can expect to pay anywhere from $15-25.

Related: 6 reasons I wish I got the flu shot

As you can catch the flu at any time of the year, it’s never too late to get your flu shot

When should I get the flu shot?

Your immunity is strongest and most effective in the three to four months following vaccination. In most parts of Australia, flu season usually starts in June and lasts till September. With that in mind, it makes sense to get your flu shot in April or May. As you can catch the flu at any time of the year, and the peak period can vary from year to year, it’s never too late to get your flu shot.

Will the COVID-19 vaccine impact the flu vaccine timing?

The Australian COVID-19 vaccination program is scheduled to commence in early 2021. The timing of the flu vaccine administration will be influenced by the COVID vaccine, which may lead to a delay in flu vaccination due to priority given to COVID-19 vaccinations.

Where can I get a flu shot?

You can get a flu shot at your local general practice, community health clinic, Aboriginal Medical Service or pharmacy. Many workplaces also offer flu shots for free.

Can the flu shot give you the flu?

No. There are no live viruses in flu vaccines, meaning that the flu shot cannot give you influenza. However, some people do experience side effects after having the flu vaccine, and sometimes the side effects can be similar to symptoms of the flu.

Mild side effects, such as soreness at the injection site, are not uncommon. There may also be some swelling and redness where you had the injection. Less common side effects can include fever, tiredness, and muscle aches. But side effects usually last only a day or two.

Related: 6 flu myths debunked

How can I stop the spread of the flu?

Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself (and those you live with) from influenza. But there are other ways to help stop the spread of infections, such as the flu, by following these tips:

Avoid close contact with others

Keep your distance from others (at least 1.5 metres), particularly if you are feeling unwell, to help reduce the chance of spreading the flu to other people.

Practice good cough etiquette

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

Throw tissues straight into the bin

Don’t leave them lying on a bedside table or the floor.

Wash your hands frequently

Wash your hands with soap after blowing your nose, helping a sick child with a runny nose, throwing away used tissues or rubbing your eyes.

This winter, the last thing you need is to be infected by two different viruses – COVID-19 and influenza – so make sure you follow hygiene and distancing recommendations, eat well and be sure to get your vaccine. By doing so, you’ll be not only protecting yourself and your loved ones, but also vulnerable members of your community.

For more on protecting yourself from influenza, check out our articles How to increase immunity and avoid the flu this year and 6 reasons I wish I got the flu shot.

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