Your questions answered

Below are some of the frequently asked questions about influenza (flu) vaccination. These answers aim to provide clarification and reassurance based on the latest medical evidence and advice.

What is influenza?

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a contagious viral infection. It is different from the common cold. It can affect people of all ages, but is especially serious for babies, young children under 5, pregnant people and those with underlying medical conditions. 

While influenza is common, it can be serious. It can cause complications which can lead to hospitalisation.

What is the difference between influenza and the common cold?

Influenza and the common cold both cause infection of the nose and throat, but different viruses cause the infections. Influenza can be much more serious than the common cold and can lead to hospitalisation.

How does the flu vaccine work?

A flu vaccine is the best way to protect you and your family against influenza. 

The vaccine strengthens your immunity to protect against influenza. It contains an inactive part of the influenza virus that trains your immune system to recognise and fight the infection. The vaccine reduces your chances of getting influenza. But if you do get it, the vaccine lowers your risk of developing serious illness which could lead to hospitalisation.

If you’re pregnant, the flu vaccine’s effect on your immune system is carried through the placenta and umbilical cord. So, the vaccine protects your baby against influenza at birth and for their first 6 months. This is important because it protects your baby when they are most vulnerable and too young to be vaccinated.

Who should have the flu vaccine?

It’s recommended that everyone over the age of 6 months has a flu vaccination every year.

Flu vaccines are free under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) for:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and over
  • Children aged 6 months to under 5 years
  • Pregnant people at any stage of pregnancy
  • People aged 65 years or over
  • People aged 6 months or over who have medical conditions that mean they have a higher risk of serious illness.

In some states and territories, flu vaccines may also be free for other people not listed above. Speak to your health professional or contact your state or territory health department to find out more.

When should I get the flu vaccine?

Your immunity is strongest for 3 to 4 months after you are vaccinated. Flu season in Australia usually runs from June to September, peaking in August, so it’s important to get your flu vaccine in April or May.

If you’re pregnant, you can safely get the flu vaccine at any stage of your pregnancy. It’s best to get it before the flu season starts, but you can get it any time during the year. For more information, visit Pregnancy and Newborn vaccinations.

Why is a flu vaccine recommended each year?

Yearly flu vaccinations provide the best protection against influenza. The flu virus can change year to year, so you will need a new and updated vaccine each year before the peak flu season.

How effective is the flu vaccine at preventing influenza?

The flu vaccine reduces your chance of getting influenza and reduces the risk of serious illness if you do get it. The more people who are vaccinated in the community, the less likely influenza will spread.

In 2023, the flu vaccines were highly effective. The vaccine was designed to trigger an immune response to protect against certain influenza viruses. The vaccine was 84% to 99% similar to influenza viruses circulating in the community. Because of the match between the vaccines and influenza viruses, the vaccines were highly effective.

For those who were vaccinated, the vaccines reduced people’s risk of being hospitalised from influenza by 68%. The vaccine also reduced the need to visit a general practitioner (GP) because of influenza by 64%.

Every vaccine in Australia must pass trial phases before the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) registers it for use.

Can a flu vaccine give influenza?

No. Influenza vaccines in Australia do not contain the live virus – so, the vaccine can’t give you influenza. 

Less than 1 in 6 people experience side effects from the flu vaccine. These can feel similar to early signs of influenza and may include fever, tiredness and muscle aches. These side effects usually last a couple of days, and you will recover without any problems.

What are possible side effects of the flu vaccine?

You may experience minor side effects following vaccination. Most reactions are mild and only last a couple of days, and you will recover without any problems.

Common side effects of flu vaccines include:

  • drowsiness or tiredness
  • muscle aches
  • pain, redness and swelling at injection site
  • occasionally an injection-site lump (may last many weeks - no treatment needed)
  • mild fever.

It’s important to remember that the side effects show the vaccine is triggering an immune response, which is what it’s designed to do.

Talk to your health professional about possible side effects of the flu vaccine, or if you or your child have side effects that worry you.

To find out more about ingredients and possible side effects of each vaccine, visit Consumer Medicine Information.

Can I get the flu vaccine at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes, you can safely get the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine during the same visit. 

The best way to protect yourself against influenza and COVID-19 is to get the flu vaccine each year and any COVID-19 vaccines recommended for your age and health needs. 

For more information visit COVID-19 vaccines.

What are the complications associated with influenza?

While influenza is common, it can be serious. It can cause serious complications like lung infections and seizures which can lead to hospitalisation. In some cases, it can even be fatal. 

Getting influenza during pregnancy can lead to serious complications, which can lead to premature birth or stillbirth. Influenza can also be much more severe for pregnant people and can lead to hospitalisation.

Babies and children under 5 years are more likely to get very sick with influenza. They are more likely than adults and older children to need treatment in hospital.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also at a high risk of getting very sick from influenza. Complications (such as difficulty breathing, needing to go to the hospital or even death) are more common among older people, babies, and people with other health problems.

How many people are hospitalised because of the flu?

Pregnant people are more than twice as likely to be admitted to hospital with influenza than other people. They are more than seven times more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit than non-pregnant people. Pregnant people are also three times more likely to die from influenza.

Babies under 6 months of age have the highest risk of ending up in hospital or dying from influenza, which is much higher than older children. In Australia, children under 5 have some of the highest rates of influenza hospitalisation.

Every year in Australia, hundreds of children get extremely unwell from influenza they need to be treated in hospital. Most of them are babies and children under five years of age. 

At the end of 2023 flu season, almost 3,700 people had been hospitalised in Australia with the flu1. This is 1.3 times more people hospitalised with the flu than usual over the past 5 years*. 

*The 5-year average includes data for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2022. The years 2020 and 2021 are not included in the average. This is because the COVID-19 safety measures during 2020 and 2021 lead to less influenza present in the community.

Most influenza-related paediatric hospitalisations and deaths occur among children without underlying medical conditions. Of children younger than 16 years, 39% hospitalised with influenza had existing medical conditions, compared to 63% of people aged 16 to 64 years, and 87% of adults aged 65 years or older1. Of those hospitalised in 2023, 39 people died of complications from influenza1

You can protect yourself and your family from serious illness caused by influenza by getting vaccinated against influenza each year. 

Where can I get a flu vaccine?

You can get the flu vaccine at your local general practice, immunisation clinic, Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) or pharmacy. 

To find a health service in your area, visit the National Health Services Directory.

More information

If you have more questions or want more detail to help you decide about vaccination, check out the following resources. Your doctor, nurse or health care worker can also give vaccination information for you and your family.

When looking online for vaccine information, be sure to use reliable sources based on scientific evidence.


1 Australian Influenza Surveillance Report – 2023 End of Season Summary, Communicable Disease Epidemiology and Surveillance Section (CDESS), December 2023

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