In healthy adults having a flu vaccination reduces the risk of contracting the flu (influenza) by 60-70 percent. This is a good reduction.
The flu kills hundreds to thousands of people each year in Australia and is responsible for many thousands of hospitalisations and sick days. More children are killed by the flu than meningococcal.
It is recommended that every well person over the age of 6 months receive the flu vaccination. When healthy individuals are vaccinated this not only protects the person themselves but also those who are very young, elderly or not well enough to be vaccinated.
Many people walk in to pharmacies each year and declare they have the flu and want something to ease their symptoms. Most of these people don’t have the flu but rather the common cold which makes you feel sick but not as sick as the flu and the common cold is not deadly.
Why is the flu vaccination different each year?
Each year, around April, a new flu vaccination is available. From 2018 onwards the flu vaccination contains 4 strains of flu virus (previously 3-4 strain vaccinations were available). The strains are chosen based on intelligent guess work to anticipate which strains are most likely to be encountered that year. The strains are named according to where the strain of flu virus is first discovered eg the Southern Hemisphere strains chosen this year are Michigan, Singapore, Phuket and Brisbane.
The effectiveness of flu vaccinations can start to decrease after 3-4 months and different strains may be more prevalent from year to year. This is why vaccination is required every year.
When should you have a flu vaccination?
As already mentioned the vaccination effectiveness can decrease after 3-4 months. Ideally you should have a flu vaccination two weeks before you may be exposed to the flu for maximum effectiveness. This is impossible to determine! It is generally recommended to be vaccinated from the end of April onwards as peak flu times can occur any time between May and September.
Can you get the flu from the flu vaccination?
No you can’t. The vaccination does not contain live virus so it can not give you flu. The vaccination contains parts of killed virus that makes our immune system think we have been exposed to the flu and so it produces antibodies. Having these antibodies in our bodies means that if we are exposed to the real live virus we are able to fight against it immediately with our already formed antibodies.