Why it’s so important to get a flu shot this year

Experts say we’re set for a nasty flu season, but your annual flu jab will reduce your chances of contracting the virus.

Flu cases have been rare in Australia during the Covid-19 pandemic for two reasons.

First, the interventions we took to prevent Covid (such as mask wearing and social distancing) also prevented us from catching the flu.

Second, Australia’s international border was closed, which meant travellers weren’t able to bring in the virus from the Northern Hemisphere as they usually would.

But, as international travel ramps up once more, experts say influenza is on its way back and now is the time to get vaccinated.

University of Sydney infectious disease expert and paediatrician Professor Robert Booy says vaccination is particularly important as we now have reduced immunity to the flu and the new seasonal strain is expected to be particularly dangerous, especially for older people.

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

“So, that means we’re expecting to have a big flu season in 2022.”

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.

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.

What is ‘flurona’?

It is possible to contract Covid-19 and the flu at the same time – dubbed “flurona”, although instances so far have been minimal.

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.

How does the flu shot work with Covid-19 vaccine?

The Covid-19 vaccine does not protect against the flu, which is why you still need to get a flu shot.

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

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

Best way to protect yourself from the flu

You can reduce your chances of catching flu by getting the annual flu shot.

“Flu vaccine, in general, tends to be about 60 per cent effective (against contracting the virus),” Prof Booy says.

The flu season typically hits hard over winter, but Prof Booy recommends getting the vaccine as soon as it is available – usually March or April.

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

Flu vaccination is free for high risk groups.

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

Written by Joanne Trzcinski and Cheryl Critchley.