As so many of us remember all too well, 2017 was the year the flu went, for want of a better word, viral. It was one of the worst outbreaks of influenza in Australia since 2009, with more than 170,000 Australians falling victim to what was even dubbed “the Aussie flu” last winter.
But what many of us miss in the bustle and chaos of everyday life is the partially avoidable nature of the flu. After all, at the beginning of the season, there are many, many, many opportunities for us to get the flu vaccine. In fact, TerryWhite Chemmart has more than three million available appointments throughout Australia for anyone over the age of 18 to arm ourselves with the stuff that could save us from falling ill this winter.
So, as the season approaches, we enlisted the help of Krystel Tresillian, clinical services pharmacist at TerryWhite Chemmart, to answer all our questions about the flu shot this year.
What are the benefits of a flu shot?
Tresillian tells Mamamia it’s important we recognise the flu to be a “very serious illness”.
“Unfortunately, the flu is a very serious illness, highlighted by the terrible 2017 flu season,” she says. “A person’s best protection is still a flu vaccination and the strains can change each year which is why it’s important to get vaccinated every year.”
What’s different about the shot this year?
This year, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the Federal Government would fund two new flu vaccines as a means of better protecting the elderly.
The Department of Health announced the addition of two new high-dose vaccines for over-65s to the National Immunisation Program (NIP). Tresillian says the NIP provides free vaccinations for specific at-risk groups.
“The new vaccines are trivalent vaccine types, but they have changes made to the formulation to mean they are more effective in providing protection in the over-65 age group, who are at particular risk of complications from the flu,” Tresillian tells us.
“These vaccines will be available from April 2018 from the GP and in Victoria, participating pharmacists can also provide vaccinations under the NIP.
“There’s no evidence that they provide additional protection for under 65s, so for under 65s the recommendation is to receive the standard quadrivalent vaccinations available from their GPs or pharmacist.”
Who is most vulnerable to the flu?
The flu itself doesn't discriminate, though age and pre-existing health conditions mean some are more vulnerable than others.
According to Tresillian, the most vulnerable are "those with chronic conditions such as heart conditions, asthma and COPD, diabetes and kidney problems as well as pregnant women, over 65s and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders".
That doesn't, however, mean only the elderly should get the vaccine.
"While people who are high-risk can get the vaccination for free from their GP, it’s still recommended that everyone get vaccinated, so they can protect those around them," she adds. "This is very important if you work with children or the elderly or will be spending time around someone who is unwell, pregnant or newborns. It’s easy to get vaccinated either from your GP or pharmacists in all states can now vaccinate against flu."
Are there any side effects to the vaccine?
Yes, in some cases the shot has some, minimal side effects.
"Side effects from the flu vaccine are usually mild and include some redness, itchiness, or pain around the area where you have been injected and sometimes a small bump/bruise may develop," Tresillian says.
She adds other occasional side effects include mild fatigue or soreness of joints. However, it's important to note these symptoms are particularly mild in comparison to getting the actual flu.
When should I get it?
"The best time to get vaccinated is in autumn (so between March and May) in anticipation of the peak flu season which is usually between June and September," Tresillian says.
If you wait until winter, the flu will likely already be circulating, therefore you're naturally increasing your risk to infection.
Can I get it free?
That depends on who you are. People in the above high-risk categories are eligible to get the free flu vaccine from their GP and in Victoria, both the GP and participating pharmacists.
Does the flu shot protect me against anything else?
No, it doesn't. The vaccine doesn’t protect against other viruses, such as the cold, so Tresillian encourages us to practice good hygiene through winter, such as "hand washing or staying home when unwell".
These factors will help us stay well and healthy throughout the year.
Did you get the flu last year? Tell us how you got through it below.
This content was created with thanks to our brand partner TerryWhite Chemmart.
Because your health is our priority, we offer a number of different health services right here in the pharmacy. Our approachable and accessible pharmacists also provide professional assistance for many different health and wellbeing issues. TerryWhite Chemmart, helping to keep you Alive & Well.