As we head towards a southern hemisphere winter, many people are wondering if it’s worth getting the flu vaccine.
Generally speaking, if you are vaccinated, you’re less likely to get the flu. But that’s not the whole story.
For most healthy people, it’s about considering the cost and a few seconds of pain against the possibility that you’ll need to take time off work and endure a few days of misery due to infection.
For people who come into contact with vulnerable people – like the elderly, young or sick – getting vaccinated reduces the risk that you can pass it on.
For vulnerable people, the flu can be the difference between being at home with a chronic disease, and being in hospital with complications such as bacterial pneumonia.
When you should get vaccinated is a bit like playing the lottery. If you are vaccinated too early, there’s the risk it doesn’t work when you most need it; too late and you may get the flu while unprotected, or forget to have it before flu season hits.
Here’s what you need to know when deciding whether to get vaccinated, and when.
People who get vaccinated are at lower risk of getting influenza than those who are not. They are less likely to be laid up in bed with sweats, shivers and muscle aches, and take time off work or their usual activities, or be hospitalised with complications.
The Australian government recommends everyone from six months old be vaccinated, with those in the following higher-risk categories eligible for a free shot in 2017:
- people aged 65 years and over
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait people aged six months to less than five years
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are aged 15 years and over
- pregnant women
- people aged six months and over with medical conditions, like severe asthma, lung or heart disease, low immunity or diabetes that can lead to complications from influenza.
The mild symptoms that some people get after vaccination are usually related to the vaccine generating an immune response. This is how vaccines work – by “training” the immune system to recognise parts of the influenza virus, it can respond more effectively when it encounters the real thing. There is no “live virus” in the flu shot. Your body responds to parts of the flu virus in the vaccine; you cannot “catch the flu” from it.
Like all medications, the flu vaccine carries with it a small risk of side effects, like temporary soreness at the injection site.