Immunise Australia Program
Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing
Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Immunise Australia Program. Information Line 1800 671 811
Immunise Australia Program. Information Line 1800 671 811

Questions and Answers for Influenza (flu) Vaccination 2014

Information on Influenza and Influenza Vaccination.


What is influenza?

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is caused by a virus and mainly spreads from person to person through the air by coughing, sneezing or talking, and by touching a person’s hands, surface or object.

The flu virus infects your respiratory system such as the nose, throat and sometimes your lungs. It differs from a cold as symptoms such as fever, sore throat and muscle aches develop suddenly and last about a week. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can cause complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis which require hospitalisation. Sometimes these complications can lead to death.

Flu can also make some underlying medical conditions worse. There is a need to get vaccinated every year because the viruses circulating in the community continually change and immunity from the vaccine does not last a long time. It is especially important that people at risk be vaccinated each year.

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4 things you might not know about the flu shot!

  1. There is no live virus in the flu shot.
  2. The composition of the vaccine changes every year.
  3. The flu shot is safe for pregnant women at all stages of their pregnancy.
  4. bioCSL Fluvax® is not recommended for children under 5 years of age.

Can I receive free flu vaccine under the National Immunisation Program?

The flu vaccine is recommended for anyone from 6 months of age who wishes to be protected against influenza. Free flu vaccine is available for the following people:

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I received a flu shot last year, do I still need to get one this year?

Yes. Immunity decreases over time and flu vaccination is needed each year to ensure you continue to be protected. Vaccination is recommended in early autumn to allow time for immunity to be strengthened before the flu season starts.

The 2014 seasonal influenza vaccine is trivalent which means it can protect against three strains of the influenza virus. The 2014 trivalent vaccine differs from the 2013  seasons trivalent vaccine as it contains two new strains. Therefore it is especially important for those who are at risk to be vaccinated.

The H1N1 pandemic influenza virus strain, A(H1N1)pdm09, remains in the vaccine. The second influenza A strain and the influenza B strain, however, are different from previous years. The in the 2014 southern hemisphere trivalent seasonal influenza vaccine are:

Even if you received a flu vaccination towards the end of the last flu season, you should still be vaccinated again before this flu season.

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My child has a medical condition. Should they get the flu vaccine?

If your child has a chronic medical condition, he or she is at increased risk of severe flu or complications from flu. Flu vaccination is very important if your child has any of the medical conditions listed in the table below. Flu vaccination is provided free for children older than 6 months of age with any of these medical conditions.

Medical conditions that are associated with an increased risk of influenza disease complications and for which individuals are eligible for vaccination under the NIP*

Category
Vaccination strongly recommended but not limited to children with the following clinical conditions
Cardiac disease Cyanotic congenital heart disease
Congestive heart failure
Coronary artery disease
Chronic respiratory conditions† Severe asthma (for which frequent hospitalisation is required)
Cystic fibrosis
Bronchiectasis
Suppurative lung disease
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Chronic emphysema
Chronic neurological conditions† Hereditary and degenerative CNS diseases† (including multiple sclerosis)
Seizure disorders
Spinal cord injuries
Neuromuscular disorders
Immunocompromising conditions Immunosuppressive therapy due to disease or treatment (e.g. malignancy, transplantation, HIV and/or chronic steroid use)
Asplenia or splenic dysfunction
HIV infection
Diabetes and other metabolic disorders Type 1 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes
Chronic metabolic disorders
Renal disease Chronic renal failure
Haematological disorders Haemoglobinopathies
Long-term aspirin therapy in children aged 6 months to 10 years These children are at increased risk of Reye syndrome following influenza infection

† Persons who have any condition that compromises the management of respiratory secretions and is associated with an increased risk of aspiration should be vaccinated.
‡ All immunocompromised persons, irrespective of age, who receive influenza vaccine for the first time are recommended to receive two vaccine doses, at least 4 weeks apart, and 1 dose annually thereafter.
* NOTE: Additional medical conditions predisposing to severe influenza have been added in The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 10th edition, released in March 2013. However, some of these groups are not currently included as eligible for vaccination under the NIP. Influenza vaccination is recommended for persons who have the conditions below (but not funded under the NIP unless they fall under one of the categories above):

Refer to The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 10th edition, 2013 for further details.


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Is it safe for my child to be vaccinated for flu?

Yes. Children can begin to be vaccinated against the flu from 6 months of age.

Flu vaccines are safe and have been used in children around the world and in Australia for many years. All vaccines currently available in Australia must pass stringent safety testing before being approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

Specific brands of flu vaccine are registered with the TGA for use in children - and some flu vaccines should not be used for certain age groups of children.

Since late 2010, bioCSL Fluvax® has not been registered for use in children aged less than 5 years because it causes unacceptably high rates of adverse events, specifically fevers and febrile convulsions, in children of this age.

BioCSL Fluvax® is approved for use in persons aged 5 years and older; however, the TGA and the Product Information for bioCSL Fluvax® advise that this vaccine should only be used in children aged 5 to under 9 years based on careful consideration of potential benefits and risks to the individual. ATAGI recommends it not be used in this age group because there are readily available alternative trivalent inactivated influenza vaccines which are much less likely to induce fever. Only if an alternative vaccine is not available should bioCSL Fluvax® be used. Thus, use of bioCSL Fluvax® in children aged 5 to 9 years should only be considered after careful review of the potential benefits and risks.

The available data indicate that there is a very low risk of fever, which is usually mild and transient, following vaccination with the other vaccine brands: Agrippal®; Fluarix®; Influvac®; and Vaxigrip®. Any of these vaccines can be used in children aged 6 months and older.

Are there any side effects with the flu vaccine?

Vaccines, like other medicines, can have side effects, however the majority of side effects are minor.

Common side effects following flu vaccination include soreness, redness, pain and swelling at the injection site, fever and malaise. These side effects are usually mild and resolve within a few days, usually without any treatment. You should contact your doctor if you are concerned or your child has a persistent high temperature.

There may be a small increase in the risk of fever when a child receives both the flu vaccine and the pneumococcal disease vaccine (13vPCV) at the same time. These two vaccines can be given separately, with a least a three day interval between them, to reduce the likelihood of fever. If you are concerned, you should discuss this option with your doctor or immunisation provider.

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I heard there were problems with the flu vaccine for children in 2010?

In 2010, increased rates of high fever and febrile convulsions were reported in children under 5 years of age after they were vaccinated with the bioCSL Fluvax® vaccine. bioCSL Fluvax® has not been registered for use in this age group since late 2010 and therefore should not be given to children under 5 years of age.

The available data indicate that there is a very low risk of fever, which is usually mild and transient, following vaccination with the other vaccine brands: Agrippal®; Fluarix®; Influvac®; and Vaxigrip®. Any of these vaccines can be used in children aged 6 months and older.

Is it safe for me to get the flu shot if I am pregnant?

Yes. The flu vaccine can be safely given during any stage of pregnancy. Pregnant women are at increased risk of severe disease or complications from the flu. Vaccinating against flu during pregnancy can not only protect pregnant women but provide ongoing protection to a newborn baby for the first six months after birth.

Is it safe for me, as an adult, to get the flu shot?

Yes. All flu vaccines currently available in Australia are safe to use in adults. All vaccines in Australia must pass stringent safety testing before being approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Further information on the safety of vaccines is available from the Therapeutic Goods Administration website.

What are the possible side effects from the flu shot?

Common side effects following seasonal flu vaccination include soreness, redness, pain and swelling at the injection site, fever, vomiting and malaise. These side effects are usually mild and resolve within a few days, usually quickly without any treatment. Generally, reactions may occur within a few hours following vaccination and may last 1 to 2 days.

Some side effects may mimic flu infection, but all flu vaccines do not contain live virus and so do not cause you to get influenza.

Side effects such as hives or anaphylaxis are rare. People with a history of an allergic reaction to egg protein may still receive flu vaccine after talking to your doctor.

If I get a side effect after I have a flu vaccine, where can I report it?

Side effects or adverse events following any immunisation can be reported to the Therapeutic Goods Administration by calling the Adverse Medicine Events Line on 1300 134 237 or lodging a report online at the TGA website, via the ‘report a problem link’. You can also report adverse events to your doctor, hospital, health centre or to your state and territory health authority.

Where can I get a flu shot?

Flu shots are available from your doctor or immunisation provider. It is important to note that whilst the vaccine is free for under the National Immunisation Program certain groups, a consultation fee may apply.

For information about vaccination in your area contact your state or territory health department.

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Page last modified: 08 April, 2014