Body

Everything you need to know about this year's flu shot (and no, it WON’T give you the flu)

We took a stab at learning about the (in)famous winter jab that has Australia criticising and hypothesising over whether to get one or not. This is what we learnt.

By Ellie McDonald
Duchess Catherine

Those opposed to the flu shot, say I…

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OK, now, raise your hand if you’ve ever said/groaned one or more of the below in relation to getting a flu vaccination:

“The flu shot actually GAVE me the flu!”

“I got my flu shot last year so I don’t need to get it again.”

“But last time I got it, it made my arm hurt for WEEKS…”

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Well, if so, prepare to be schooled by Dr Ginni Mansberg, General Practitioner, media medic and Influenza Specialist Group Director.

According to Dr Ginni, getting vaccinated is the single, most effective way to minimise the risk of contracting the flu.

Not only that, but she has dispelled just about every argument you/we have ever used to knock back an influenza vaccine, all while outlining literally everything you need to know about this year's flu shot.

Don’t believe us? You will now…

What’s in the flu shot?

The flu vaccines available in Australia are all made from highly purified egg-grown influenza viruses, which are then killed and broken up into tiny pieces.

Small amounts of preservative and stabiliser may be used, depending on the individual manufacturers production process.

When the vaccine is injected, the body is fooled into believing it has been invaded by the virus, and produces an immune response. This kind of inactivated vaccine cannot cause influenza in the recipient.

DISCLAIMER: This is in no way gives you any flu symptoms, people. Like, NONE.

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What don’t I know about the flu shot?

  • There is no live virus in the flu shot, so you cannot get the flu from the vaccine

  • The composition of the vaccine changes every year

  • All vaccines in Australia must pass stringent safety testing before being approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration

  • The influenza vaccine can be safely given during any stage of pregnancy. Pregnant women are at the increased risk of severe disease of complications from the influenza. Immunising against influenza during pregnancy not only protects the mother but provides ongoing protection to a newborn baby for the first six months after birth

I had the flu shot last year. Do I need to get it again this year?

You should get the flu shot every year because the flu virus is constantly changing. Every year, the flu vaccine changes to match the flu virus that is anticipated to be circulating in the coming winter.

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What does the flu shot protect me from?

  • The influenza vaccine prevents influenza infection but not other viruses like colds and gastroenteritis

  • Influenza is a highly contagious disease that kills more Australians per year than road accidents. It is estimated that 1500-3500 die from influenza or influenza-related complications each year

  • The flu vaccine can protect you against complications from existing underlying medical conditions that are brought about by contracting the flu

  • Current research suggests that the flu shot seems almost halve the risk of heart attacks in middle-aged people

  • Vaccination may also make your illness milder if you do get sick with the flu. No vaccine is 100% effective but it is still the single best prevention we have

  • Getting vaccinated yourself also protects people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions

What are the side effects?

The most common vaccine reaction is a slightly sore arm for a day or so, which tells you that your body is responding to the vaccine and creating an immune response.

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Why does the flu shot make my arm sore?

Soreness in your arm after getting a flu vaccine typically lasts no longer than a day or two. It is your body's natural response to a foreign invader - a sign that your immune system is making antibodies, which is what offers you the protection from getting the actual virus.

The needle stick may also cause some soreness at the injection site.

Why do I still get the flu even if I have had the shot?

It is impossible to get the flu from the flu shot, as the vaccine consists of “killed” virus particles. However, there are several reasons why someone might get flu symptoms after their vaccination.

Lots of us will become ill from other respiratory viruses, such as rhinoviruses, during cold and flu season which cause the common cold. The flu vaccine only protects against influenza, not other illnesses.

It is also possible to be exposed to influenza viruses, which cause the flu, shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period after vaccination that it takes the body to develop immune protection. This exposure may result in a person becoming ill with flu before protection from the vaccine takes effect.

A third reason why some people may experience flu-like symptoms despite getting vaccinated is that they may have been exposed to a flu virus that is very different from the viruses the vaccine is designed to protect against.

The ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person depends largely on the similarity or “match” between the viruses selected to make the vaccine and those spreading and causing illness.

It is one of the main reasons the 4 strain or quadrivalent influenza vaccine was introduced in to Australia last year, as it protects against a fourth flu virus (traditionally the flu vaccine consisted of 3 types of virus).

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When SHOULDN’T I get the flu shot?

Specific brands of the influenza vaccine are recommended for use in children over the age of 6 months, up to 18 years of age.

Children younger than 6 months of age should not get influenza vaccine, because they cannot develop an adequate immune response. To protect these young infants from influenza, it is important that people in close contact with them and especially pregnant women are immunised to avoid spreading the virus.

Beginning at 6 months of age, it is very important for infants to be vaccinated, because babies are extremely vulnerable to severe complications – even death – from influenza.

You should tell your healthcare provider if you have any allergies, including an allergy to eggs, or have ever had an allergic reaction to an influenza vaccine.

For more information, please visit Flu Smart or Immunisation Coalition.