Is your family getting the Flu jab this year?
By Cassie Hart, Editor - Kids in Perth 17 May 2021
While most people’s minds are currently focused on the recent Covid-19 community transmission scare, it’s important that we don’t forget that the flu season is just around the corner and it’s time to decide whether or not your family will get the flu jab.
2019 was one of Western Australia’s worst flu seasons on record with around 22,000 cases, 3000 hospitalisations and 80 deaths occurring. As a result, the state government made the influenza vaccination available to all primary school aged children free of charge (the National Immunisation Program already funds the flu vaccine for children aged 6 months to less than 5 years) and strongly encourages families to get vaccinated.
Local experts say Western Australia leads the country with some of the highest childhood flu vaccination rates of any state. But while many families have embraced the flu vaccine and added it to their annual ‘to do’ list, others have remained hesitant.
Dr Chris Blyth, Co-Director of Wesfarmers Centre for Vaccines and Infectious Diseases based at Telethon Kids Institute explains some common concerns: “Parents want to do what they believe is best for their child. Many believe that flu is a mild and harmless illness and therefore do not prioritise flu vaccines like they do other vaccines. Some may have concerns about the safety of flu vaccines.”
According to Dr Blyth, flu vaccines are both safe and effective.
“We have studied the safety of influenza vaccines for more than a decade – the current vaccines have been shown to be safe,” he said. “[They reduce] the number of children with severe flu and protect those around them.”
Another concern some people have is that they will catch the flu from the vaccine. According to Dr Blyth that isn’t possible.
“There are a number of flu vaccinations available in WA this year. All flu vaccines used in Australia are ‘inactivated’, which means they do not contain the live flu virus – you can't catch the flu from the vaccine.”
Dr Chris Blyth, Co-Director of Wesfarmers Centre for Vaccines and Infectious Diseases
Experts recommend that everyone over the age of 6 months old get the flu vac each year, particularly young children who are at greatest risk of being admitted to hospital because of the flu.
“Flu is the most common disease that can be prevented by vaccines and a major cause of illness, hospitalisation and mortality globally every year,” said Dr Blyth.
If you decide to get your family vaccinated, the best time to do so is prior to the flu season to receive maximum benefits.
“Your immunity is strongest and most effective 3 to 4 months after you are vaccinated. Flu season in Australia usually runs from June to September, peaking in August, so it is important to get it once it becomes available (typically, available in Western Australia from April).”
Dr Blyth says the single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, however if you decide against it, there are other measures you can take to minimise your risk of getting the flu.
“Good health habits like staying home when you are sick, avoiding people who are sick, covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like flu.”
The Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases is currently trailing a vaccination for babies under 6 months old. This would cover the gap in time between when the immunity passed down through their mother is wearing off and when babies are currently able to be vaccinated.
“Young children, particularly those younger than 6 months of age, are at especially high risk of severe influenza infection. It's really important that we're able to prevent these serious infections in young children and keep them as healthy as possible and out of hospital,” said Dr Blythe.
“So, my advice is simple – get your children vaccinated.”
For more information about the flu and the influenza vaccination, talk to your GP.