What is the flu vax and why is it important?

Emmy Samtani
Emmy Samtani
Emmy is the founder of Kiindred and mother to 3 little ones. Over the last 4 years, she has worked with some of the most credible experts in the parenting space and is a keen contributor on all things parenthood.
Created on May 22, 2024 · 6 mins read

A thought that every parent has had: “How does one kid need so many vaccinations?” Since their first immunisation as a newborn, we’ve been flicking through lists of indecipherable vaccine names and wondering if we missed a mandatory science lesson for new parents.

Between the day-to-day chaos of kids, and remembering their scheduled vaccinations and health checkups, the flu vax might not be high on your priority list.

But it should be.

According to the Australian Influenza Surveillance Report, the 2023 influenza season was one of the worst seasons on record since 2019 – especially for children. 

This wasn’t because there was a worse strain circulating (one that targeted children) or even that the kids hospitalised were exceptionally vulnerable. The majority of influenza-related paediatric hospitalisations and deaths actually occur among children without underlying medical conditions. 

Regardless of how generally ‘healthy’ they were, all children faced higher risks because of a drop in vaccination rates. 

Between March and May of 2020, 25% of children between six months and five years were vaccinated (the second highest demographic). However, in 2023, only 7.6% of this group had received the flu shot in the same period (NCIRS).

While the flu is common, it can be serious, especially in children. The flu vax offers your family the best protection. So, in this article, we’re laying out the signs and symptoms of influenza, what’s actually in the flu vaccine, and how it protects your family.

A refresher on influenza

Influenza (also referred to as the flu) is a highly contagious respiratory sickness caused by two types of influenza viruses: A and B. Within these viruses, there are several sub-types and strains that may evolve over time.

For some, influenza might not stir up too much drama. It can, however, cause more serious (and sometimes deadly) conditions, even in healthy people, so you shouldn’t mistake it for a harmless common cold. 

Last year, children aged 5-9 years had the highest influenza notification rates. A worrying 72% of influenza patients in hospitals were under 16 years of age and out of 39 overall deaths in Australia – 9 were children in this age group. That’s worse than reports from 2022 and many years pre-COVID-19 pandemic years.

Babies and young children are amongst the most vulnerable to influenza complications, along with pregnant women, and people with underlying conditions. 

So even if you reckon your family could make it through flu season alright, someone else’s family might not. By looking after yourself, you can look after others too.

Signs and symptoms

If your child has caught the flu, they might be showing symptoms like:

  • sudden high fever 
  • a dry cough
  • body aches
  • low energy
  • sore throat and runny nose
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

How influenza spreads

The flu is very contagious; it can be spread by coughing and sneezing, or touching objects that have been in contact with a sick person.

So, for our kids that haven’t quite grasped the concept of personal space, influenza can spread like wildfire – and in this case, sharing isn’t caring. If you think daycare was tough before, wait till the flu season kicks in.

What to expect from the flu vaccine

The flu vaccine comes as a single vaccine that covers several strains of influenza. It’s given as an injection, typically in the upper arm (or in the thigh for babies).

Children younger than nine receiving the vaccine for the first time require two doses given at least four weeks apart.

The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone except children under 6 months. It’s particularly important for young children, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with chronic medical conditions, pregnant people, and the elderly. These groups can receive the influenza vaccination for free.

Here are some key facts about the flu vax:

The flu vaccine can’t give you influenza. All flu vaccines in Australia are ‘inactivated’, meaning they don’t contain the live virus. You might feel feverish or slightly achy after your vaccination, but this is a normal and brief immune system response.

The flu vaccine is proven to be safe. It has a solid track record after over 50 years of usage. Generally, they don’t lead to any serious side effects. In very rare cases, your child might have an allergic reaction, but this happens to only one or two people out of every million doses (the chances are literally one in a million).  You can talk to your health professional about the vaccine and what’s right for your child.

You’d always rather be safe than sorry. The vaccine won’t be absolutely effective in every single case. That’s not a secret. Several flu viruses circulate all the time, and the vaccine is specific to a few of the most common ones. In good news, the 2023 vaccine was highly effective at protecting people from needing to go to hospital or visiting their GP. Getting one each year is the best way to protect you and your family from influenza.

The influenza vaccine is completely safe at any stage of your pregnancy. It’s actually recommended. Catching the flu during pregnancy puts you and your baby at risk, as you’re both more vulnerable. Getting vaccinated as a pregnant person can also reduce the risk of your baby getting complications with severe influenza as a newborn, as it protects them for their first 6 months (until they are old enough to get a flu vaccine themselves).

Why you need the flu shot

The best way to protect yourself from influenza is by getting the flu shot. It’s been scientifically proven for over half a century to reduce the spread of the virus, and severe complications from influenza if you do get it. 

It’s also free for those most at risk of serious illness, including children aged 6 months to under 5 years, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people aged 65 and over, and those medically at risk. 

Every year, influenza viruses change. That’s why you need up-to-date vaccinations each year to protect yourself against current strains. Even if you didn’t get the flu last year, that doesn’t mean you won’t get it this year. 

When to get vaccinated

Peak flu season is generally from June to September, so it’s best to get the flu shot anytime from April onwards.

You’re most protected for the first three to four months following vaccination. Whilst we recommend not delaying (the peak might come around sooner), it’s never too late to vaccinate.

Wrapping it up

The flu shot is an essential immunisation to keeping our kids, family, and friends as safe as possible this winter. It’s easy and free for pregnant people, children aged 6 months to five years, and those with specific medical conditions.

Help Australia beat the bug this winter, and get your family vaccinated.









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