Why your family needs their flu shot – especially the kids

Australia’s flu season is off and running. Cases are surging around the country and kids and young people are most at risk. Flu vaccination can help you avoid it.

Doctors and pharmacists around the country are urging people – including children – to get their flu vaccination after experts warned the 2022 season will redefine what it means to be “flu ready”.

After two years of almost non-existent flu cases in Australia, it’s back in a big way with government data revealing 87,989 cases have been diagnosed in 2022, of which 47,860 were diagnosed in the fortnight to June 5.

Those hardest hit are people aged 15-24 and kids under 10 years.

The high number of flu cases marks an early start to the flu season and the uptick is expected to continue.

Why is flu so severe this year?

Flu cases have been rare in Australia the past two years as the interventions we took to prevent Covid (such as mask-wearing, social distancing, lack of travel) also prevented us from catching the flu.

How to reduce risk of the flu

Getting your annual flu shot reduces your chances of catching the flu.

“Flu vaccine, in general, tends to be about 60 per cent effective (against contracting the virus),” University of Sydney infectious disease expert and paediatrician Professor Robert Booy says.

It takes about two weeks after the vaccine for your body to build enough antibodies to protect against the flu, so health authorities recommend getting your immunisation as soon as possible.

Even if you’re unlucky enough to contract the flu after being jabbed, you’re more likely to have milder symptoms than the unvaccinated.

Prof Booy describes the flu vaccination as “the best way to protect yourself, your family and your community”.

Other recommendations to reduce your risk of the flu include:

  • Get an up-to-date flu shot.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Avoid sharing cups, plates, cutlery, towels, etc.
  • Keep surfaces clean.
  • Flu-busters: 10 ways to avoid being sidelined by flu

Why it’s so important to get vaccinated

Prof Booy says we now have reduced immunity to the flu.

“We’ve had no disease for nearly two years, so the level of community immunity is really low,” Prof Booy says.

While children and young Australians appear to be among those hardest hit by the flu this year, worryingly, a Royal Children’s Hospital survey found only half of Australian kids will be vaccinated.

The report also revealed many parents were not aware children are more likely to catch the flu and can become seriously unwell, leading to complications affecting the brain or lungs, according to paediatrician Dr Anthea Rhodes.

Flu can be mild but can also cause serious illness in otherwise healthy people and lead to hospitalisation and even death.

There are many different strains of flu and they can change each year.

The vaccine is updated annually to protect against the most common strains.

How do you catch flu?

Flu is a highly contagious virus that is easily spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes and you breathe in the droplets.

You can also get it if you touch a contaminated surface with the flu virus on it and then touch your mouth, eyes or nose.

Where to get your flu vaccine

Flu shots are now free for the month of June in Victoria, NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

Everyone aged six months and over can receive a flu vaccine from their local GP.

Pharmacies can also deliver flu shots to people as young as five, depending which state you’re in.

Check the current immunisation schedule for the state or territory where you live.

What is ‘flurona’?

It is possible to contract Covid-19 and the flu at the same time – dubbed “flurona”.

It is not yet clear if being co-infected with the two respiratory viruses will make a person even more unwell, but the best protection against both is having the relevant vaccine.

Covid-19 vaccines or boosters can be administered on the same day as an influenza vaccine.

Written by Joanne Trzcinski and Cheryl Critchley. Updated by Claire Burke May 25.