What you need to know about this year’s flu shot

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

There are many unknowns about how COVID-19 will affect this year’s flu season, so if you haven’t already, it’s time to see your doctor about getting the annual flu shot. We recommend this as people with specific medical conditions such as diabetes have a higher risk of severe outcomes with influenza.

What is the flu vaccine made up of?

Each year the Australian Influenza Vaccine Committee (AIVC) reviews recommendations from the World Health Organisation, and data relating to the strains of recent influenza viral strains known to be circulating within Australia. Based on this information the AIVC makes recommendations to The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) as to the viral strains that will be contained in the yearly flu vaccine produced for Australia.

This year all the brand of vaccines are quadrivalent, meaning they have four influenza viral strains in the egg-based vaccine. These four strains are:

  • An A/Brisbane/02/2018 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
  • An A/South Australia/34/2019 (H3N2)-like virus
  • A B/Washington/02/2019-like (B/Victoria lineage) virus and
  • A B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (b/Yamagata lineage) virus.

Who should get the influenza vaccine and is it free?

The National Immunisation Program (NIP) provides free vaccines to those most at risk. This includes:

  • all children aged between six months and five years
  • pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy
  • all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and older
  • people aged 65 years and older and
  • people aged six months and older with certain medical conditions.

People with all types of diabetes are eligible to receive the flu vaccine free under the NIP, regardless of age. If you receive the flu vaccine at a general practice it is free if you are entitled to Medicare benefits. If you choose to receive the flu vaccine at a pharmacy, you will have to pay privately for the vaccine.

The preferred influenza vaccine for people over 65 years of age is Fluad Quad. This is an enhanced influenza vaccine that helps create a stronger immune response, as older people generally do not respond as well to the standard vaccine.

The influenza vaccine takes approximately 10-14 days to help protect against influenza exposure. The time that the vaccine provides immunity is approximately 3-4 months from the time of injection.

If you were vaccinated in April, the vaccine is generally expected to provide coverage for the whole season.

If I received my flu vaccination early, do I need to get another one later?

Revaccination with a second influenza vaccine later in the same year is routinely NOT recommended.

However, it is also not contraindicated either.

Getting revaccinated in the same season is considered on an individual basis and may be beneficial if an individual is travelling to the Northern Hemisphere later in 2020, or pregnant. Children aged 6 months to less than 9 years, who are receiving the influenza vaccine for the first time, also receive 2 doses, given at least four weeks apart.

Only one influenza vaccine is available for people eligible for the government-funded vaccine each year, except children who are receiving the influenza vaccine for the first time and require two doses.

Pneumococcal Vaccination

The pneumococcal vaccine protects against the bacterium called Streptococcus pneumoniae that can cause invasive diseases such as meningitis and pneumonia. The NIP recommends pneumococcal vaccination for:

  • infants and children
  • all adults aged over 65 years
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults
  • children, adolescents and adults with conditions that are associated with an increased risk of invasive pneumococcal disease.

The Australian Government funds pneumococcal vaccinations following the NIP schedule. For people over 65 years, the pneumococcal vaccine is funded for free one time only. This is not funded or required yearly.

For those children, adolescents and adults at high risk of invasive pneumococcal disease or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults, a varied immunisation schedule may exist, depending on the state in which you live. Diabetes is listed as a condition associated with an increased risk of invasive pneumococcal disease.

Check with your health care team to make sure your immunisations are up to date.

By Alison Crow

Pharmacist, CDE


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