The first vaccination was developed in 1796 by Edward Jenner and was targeted towards protecting people from smallpox. Since that time, vaccinations have evolved to reduce the burden of many infections and diseases and in some instances have even eradicated certain diseases. Vaccinations are one of the most valuable and cost-effective public health interventions. In Australia, we are lucky enough to have one of the most comprehensive publicly funded immunisation programs in the world.
One very important vaccine is the flu (influenza) vaccine. Influenza is a major cause of illness in Australia and at times can result in death. Each year the virus changes so it is important to get an annual flu vaccination. The more people vaccinated against influenza, the less likely it is that flu will spread across communities.How do vaccinations work?
Vaccines help develop immunity by imitating an infection. This infection almost never causes illness, however it does cause the immune system to produce T-lymphocytes and antibodies against the disease. For example, the influenza vaccine stimulates production of antibodies that are specific to the flu. This is why, in rare occasions, someone may experience an imitation infection after receiving a vaccination. These can include minor symptoms such as a sore throat, runny nose or fever (due to the activated immune response).
Once vaccinated, the immune system is left with a supply of ‘memory’ T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight the disease. Therefore, it generally takes 10 to 14 days after administration of the vaccination to be protected from influenza.How effective is the flu vaccine?
According to the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the flu vaccine reduces the chance of getting the flu by about 60%. Each year this percentage changes depending on groups of people and the strain of flu which is active at the time.How often should you get vaccinated against the flu?
Everyone should be vaccinated against the flu once every year. This is important because each year the strains in the vaccination change. If a child is under nine years of age and is receiving the influenza vaccine for the first time, they should have two doses of the vaccination at least four weeks apart.Who should get a flu vaccination?
Ideally, everyone should get the flu vaccination, as community immunity or ‘herd immunity’ minimises the spread of infection. Specific groups of people who should be vaccinated against the flu include:
- Pregnant women
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People
- People aged 65 years or older
- Health care workers
People who shouldn’t get the flu vaccination are:
1. Children younger than six months of age.
2. People with severe life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccination or any ingredient in the vaccination.
Also, people who should talk to their doctor before getting the flu vaccination are:
1. People who have had Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
2. People who are not feeling well on the day of the vaccination.
Side effects can mimic influenza infection which can include symptoms such as, fever, headache, body aches and pains. In addition to these side effects, most people experience injection site reactions such as redness, swelling and pain.
It’s also important to note that all influenza vaccinations are latex-free and are safe for individuals who have egg allergies. Talk to your healthcare professional if you are concerned about any current or potential side effects.When is the best time to get vaccinated?
In Australia, the flu period is generally between June and September. While protection from the vaccine should last for the whole season, the best protection against the flu occurs within the first three to four months following the vaccination. Therefore, the best time to get vaccinated can be as early as March or April.Can you get the flu from a flu vaccine?
No, the flu vaccine is inactivated. Therefore, you cannot get the flu from the vaccine, but you may experience flu-like symptoms as a reaction for a short period of time following your injection. This is due to the vaccine activating your immune system to recognise the flu and fight against it.Is the flu vaccination safe?
Yes. In Australia the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) regulates all medicines including vaccinations. The TGA ensure that vaccines are rigorously tested in human clinical trials to confirm they are safe and effective before they are used. Vaccine manufacturers must report information from worldwide vaccine safety monitoring to the TGA and must continually monitor adverse effects that are recorded.Where can I get a flu vaccination?
Your local Blooms The Chemist Pharmacist can administer flu vaccinations for people over the age of nine without a booking or prescription, however it’s advisable to call ahead during peak times. After the flu vaccination your Pharmacist will record your vaccination on the Australian Immunisation Register and ask you to remain seated in the pharmacy for 15 minutes in case of any reactions.
Selected Blooms The Chemist pharmacies also offer flu clinics run by a qualified nurse, who can administer the vaccine to children over two. You can pre-book your flu clinic spot here. Find your local Blooms The Chemist here.
1,2,7,8,9 Australian Government: Department of Health, Australian Immunisation Handbook. https://immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au/resources
3,4,5 Centres of Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding How Vaccines Work. July 2018.
6 Centres of Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Seasonal Flu Vaccine Effectiveness Studies. November 5 2019.
10 NSW Government: Health, Seasonal Influenza Vaccination 2019. https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/immunisation/Pages/flu.aspx
11 Centres of Disease Control and Prevention. Who should and who should NOT get a flu vaccine. October 11 2019.
By Casey Shannon, Blooms The Chemist Pharmacist