Influenza (also called flu) is a very contagious viral infection of the airways. It affects people of all ages but is especially serious for older people as well as young children and babies, pregnant women, and people with underlying medical conditions such as dementia. Influenza can require hospitalisation and can even cause death.
Influenza and future brain health
A large population-based study published in January this year found that avoiding severe flu in middle-age may protect future brain health. In the study, people who had been hospitalized for flu, with or without pneumonia, were two- to sevenfold more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, all-cause dementia, vascular dementia, Parkinson’s dementia or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The researchers believe that vaccination against viral illnesses can protect against neurodegenerative diseases.
Vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect you from serious disease caused by influenza. Influenza vaccines are given each year to protect against the most common strains of the virus.
Who can get the flu vaccine?
The influenza vaccine is FREE under the National Immunisation Program for:
- People aged 65 years or over.
- People who have medical conditions which put them at greater risk of becoming seriously unwell (such as cardiac disease, chronic respiratory conditions, chronic neurological conditions, immunocompromising conditions, diabetes and other metabolic disorders, renal disease, and haematological disorders).
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and over
- Children aged 6 months to under 5 years
- Pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy.
In some states and territories, influenza vaccines may also be provided for free to other people not listed above. Speak to your GP or contact your state or territory Department of Health to find out.
People who are not eligible for a free vaccine can purchase the vaccine from their vaccination provider.
Note that aged care and other health workers may be required to get an influenza vaccine as part of their conditions of employment.
When should I get the flu vaccine?
Annual influenza vaccine should occur anytime from April onwards to be protected for the peak flu season, which is generally June to September. The highest level of protection occurs in the first 3 to 4 months following vaccination. However, it is never too late to vaccinate since influenza can circulate in the community all year round.
Influenza vaccines can be given on the same day with a COVID-19 vaccine. There is no set timeframe to wait between having a COVID-19 infection and then having the influenza vaccine.