Timing is everything in life, especially when it comes to the flu vaccine. If you receive it too early, it may not last the flu season. If you leave it too late, you might already contract the flu before receiving the vaccine. So when is the best time to have your flu shot and who should receive it?
The Australian Influenza Vaccine Committee and Therapeutic Goods Administration determine the vaccine composition annually. They meet to confirm which strains will be included by reviewing recommendations provided by the World Health Organization (WHO). The vaccine funded for the National Immunisation Program in Australia contains the two most commonly circulating strains each of Influenza A and Influenza B strains. As the strains targeted in the vaccine change each year, based on the WHO’s recommendation, it’s important to receive a yearly shot. Although the vaccine is not 100% effective, it has been shown to prevent illness in 50-60% of healthy adults under the age of 65 years and is your best form of protection against the flu.
The timing of your vaccination is important, to ensure you receive protection when you most need it. The vaccine takes approximately two weeks to become active and is most effective three to four months after vaccination. As the flu season in Australia runs from June to September with it peaking in August, the best time to receive your vaccination is in April or May. It is important to note that if you miss this timing, it is never too late to receive a vaccine, especially if the flu is still circulating.
The Australian Government recommends that everyone over 6 months of age receive the flu vaccination each year. Due to their increased risk of complications from the flu, it is especially important for the following groups to be vaccinated:
- all children from 6 months to less than 5 years of age (some states may fund this)
- pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy (influenza and whooping cough vaccination can be given at the same time or at different times during pregnancy).
- all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and over
- individuals aged 6 months to under 65 years with medical conditions which increase the risk of influenza disease complications
The vaccine is inactive, making it impossible for you to catch the flu from the vaccine. You may experience some side effects that are similar to the flu such as a fever, tiredness or muscle aches. Side effects may start within a few hours of receiving the vaccine and can last for up to two days. As your body develops an immune response to the vaccine, the side effects will subside.
Above all, it is important to follow these steps each year to avoid contracting the flu:
- Schedule a flu shot to ensure you are protected when you most need it
- Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol based hand rub containing at least 60-95% ethanol or isopropanol
- Cover your face and cough and sneeze into your elbow
- Don’t be that person carrying your dirty tissues and using every inch of them! Dispose of any used tissues immediately – the flu virus can live outside the human body for a number of hours
- Stay at home if you have flu symptoms