Vaccination remains the best protection we have against Influenza

Each year in Autumn I like to remind people that: the influenza vaccine, more commonly called the flu vaccine is available.

Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection of the upper airways and lungs. It is spread by droplet infection from infected people coughing and sneezing. Its effects are rapidly felt throughout the whole body. People with influenza will typically complain of feeling cold shivers or a high temperature, aching muscles (myalgia) and joint pains, a sore throat, and a cough. The person may feel very unwell and may be tired and lethargic for several days.

Most young and fit people will recover quickly from influenza, but for others, it can be a serious life-threatening illness.

In an average year, it is estimated that 1500 Australians die and 20,000 to 40,000 are hospitalised because of the flu.

Getting an annual flu vaccination is an effective measure in preventing the illness. The best time to be vaccinated is as early as possible in the season, before the flu affects the community, to ensure maximum protection. The protection develops about two weeks after getting the vaccination. Every year people need to be re-vaccinated.

There are two main viruses which cause the disease, influenza A and influenza B. Each year, the virus changes slightly so that different forms of one of those viruses appear. The health authorities in Australia go to great lengths to try and anticipate the change so that the appropriate vaccine can be developed to target the latest strains.

The formulation of the influenza vaccines for use in Australia is determined each year by the Australian Influenza Vaccine Committee (AIVC) based on recommendations from the World Health Organisation.

The Australian Influenza Vaccine Committee (AIVC) recommendation for the composition of influenza vaccines for Australia in 2023 introduces two new strains to the National Immunisation Program. The new stains is A/Sydney/5/2021 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus.

The four strains for 2022 are:

  • an A/Sydney/5/2021 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
  • an A/Darwin/9/2021 (H3N2)-like virus
  • a B/Austria/1359417/2021-like (B/Victoria lineage) virus
  • a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (B/Yamagata lineage) virus

For the 2023-year, the National Immunisation Program is recommending quadrivalent vaccines.

Influenza vaccination is recommended as per the National Immunisation Program for all people aged over six months (unless medically contraindicated).

For the 2023 year, as like last year, there is a separate influenza vaccine for people aged 65 years and over. This vaccine is adjuvanted and should be given in preference to the other vaccines in the over-65 age group.

The National Immunisation Program for Influenza provides free vaccines for eligible people.

At the Rose Bay Family Medical Centre, people who are not eligible under the National Immunisation program for a free vaccine will be able to purchase the vaccine appropriate for their age for $15.00.

For the 2023 influenza season, the following groups are eligible for a free influenza vaccine:

  • All children aged six months to under five years
  • All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and over
  • All people aged 6 months and over with medical conditions predisposing to severe influenza who may be at severe risk from seasonal influenza, such as those with chronic conditions, including cardiac disease; respiratory diseases including: COPD, asthma, and cystic fibrosis; diabetes and renal failure and people with neurological impairment or who have compromised respiratory function and people with impaired immunity
  • Pregnant women (at any stage of pregnancy)
  • All people aged 65 years and over

For children who have not previously received influenza vaccination, two doses of influenza vaccine one month apart are recommended.

The optimal protection from influenza occurs within the first three to four months following vaccination. Timing of vaccination should aim to achieve the highest protection during peak influenza season. This usually occurs from June to September in Australia. Vaccinating from April provides protection before the peak season, but vaccination can still take place in the first few months of winter.

Annual vaccination is recommended for anyone six months of age and over, those not eligible under the program are able to purchase the vaccine. Annual influenza vaccination is especially recommended but not provided free for people who can transmit influenza to persons at increased risk such as staff at nursing homes, nurses, teachers and volunteer workers, and persons who provide essential community services. It is also recommended for all household contacts and other close contacts of children and adults with a medical condition that puts them at increased risk of influenza complications.

The influenza vaccine is a safe vaccine. It is an inactivated vaccine and has been available for over fifty years. Since that time, the formulation has been continually improved resulting in far fewer adverse reactions. Adverse reactions that do occur are uncommon and consist mainly of redness and swelling at the injection site. Severe side effects are extremely rare.

As International borders open, seasonal influenza virus may start to re-emerge and circulate in Australia. The vaccine is also recommended prior to international travel.

If a person has had the 2022 influenza vaccine in late 2022 or early 2023, they still should have the 2023 vaccine. Immunisation is there to protect you against disease.

Now is the time to consider the influenza vaccine.



*The information given in this article is of a general nature and readers should seek advice from their own medical practitioner before embarking on any treatment.