Immunisation against the flu

Immunisation of people who are at risk of complications from the flu is the most important way we have to reduce the number of flu infections and deaths. 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.

The influenza vaccine cannot give you a dose of flu because it does not contain live virus. Some people may still contract the flu because the vaccine may not always protect against all strains of the influenza virus circulating in the community.

An annual flu immunisation is provided through the National Immunisation Program for most people in the community who are considered to be at an increased risk of complications. In Victoria, an annual immunisation against the flu is free for:

  • people six months and over who have medical conditions that put them at risk of serious complications of the flu
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months to under five years and 15 years and over
  • pregnant women – at any stage of pregnancy
  • people 65 years and over.

We recommend everyone getting the immunisation. By protecting ourselves we can protect those who are at risk, as well as those who are unable to be vaccinated.

People who should be immunised against the flu

People with an underlying medical condition or reduced immunity are most at risk and should be immunised against the flu. They include:

  • anyone aged 65 years and older
  • pregnant women (at any stage of pregnancy)
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months to under five years and 15 years 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
    • haemoglobinopathies (blood disorders caused by genetic changes)
    • diabetes
    • kidney disease
  • children on long-term aspirin therapy aged 6 months to 10 years.

Immunisation is also recommended (but not necessarily free) for people who can put vulnerable people at risk of infection. People who work with or live in close contact with people who have an underlying medical condition or impaired immunity should also be immunised to minimise the spread of the flu to themselves, the people they work or live with and their families. These people include:

  • health care workers who provide direct care to people
  • people with Down syndrome
  • people who are obese (BMI greater than or equal to 40 kg/m2)
  • people who are addicted to alcohol
  • people who are homeless
  • residents in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities
  • staff in long-term care facilities or nursing homes
  • people who live with, or care for someone who has a chronic illness or is aged over 65 years
  • carers of homeless people
  • workers, particularly those in workplaces that provide essential services
  • people who work with children
  • people involved in the commercial poultry and pig industry
  • workers in other high-risk industries
  • anyone visiting parts of the world where flu is circulating, especially if travelling in a group.

Pregnancy and immunisation

Pregnant women are at increased risk of complications from the flu. Influenza vaccine is strongly recommended and safe for pregnant women at any time during pregnancy. It can also be safely given while breastfeeding.

Influenza vaccination of pregnant women also protects infants against influenza for the first six months after birth due to transplacental transfer of antibodies from the vaccinated woman to the fetus.

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