Getting the flu vaccine is one of the best ways to ward off colds and stay healthy over the flu season. It’s important to get immunised, as it not only helps to protect your own health, but also prevents the spread of the virus to the community.
This year, New Zealanders over the age of 65 will be able to receive the influenza vaccination from 14 April. The vaccination programme will then be extended to include the general population from early May and will run through to 31 December.
Priority, however, will be given to those eligible for a free flu vaccine. This includes people with chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and serious asthma; pregnant women and young children with a history of serious reparatory illnesses
I’m perfectly healthy, why should I get immunised?
The influenza virus is always changing, and a new vaccine is developed each year to cover this. Having had the flu or receiving the vaccine in 2020 does not protect you from getting the flu this year.
Before every flu season, the World Health Organisation determines the three or four strands of the virus which are likely to be the most common and develops a vaccination which can help protect us against them.
Even if you’re otherwise fit and healthy, there may be people in your community who aren’t. The flu is highly contagious and people with influenza may be infectious before showing symptoms, which means you could unknowingly pass the virus on to family and friends who are more vulnerable (including young children, elderly, or pregnant).
While most people recover from the flu in about a week, it can sometimes lead to serious health problems or a stay in hospital. The elderly, or people with certain medical conditions, like asthma or diabetes, can experience complications or worsening health problems.
Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, headaches, a lack of energy, dry cough, sore throat and possibly a runny nose. The fever and achiness often last 3-5 days, but low energy and the cough can last for two weeks or more.
Getting immunised is one of the simplest, and most important things you can do to protect yourself, help stop the spread, and protect those who are more vulnerable – young children, the elderly, those who are pregnant or have existing medical conditions.
Where can I go to get my flu vaccine?
2021 flu vaccines will be available from family doctors, GPs, accident and medical clinics, and certain pharmacies. Please note however that pharmacies are only able to vaccinate those aged 13 years and older.
Make sure to call in advance, to double check appointment and vaccine availability. If you think you are at risk of having COVID-19, you should not attend a vaccination appointment and should immediately contact the dedicated COVID-19 Healthline number on 0800 358 5453.
Flu vaccine NZ cost - do you need to pay?
If you meet the eligibility criteria, your influenza vaccination will be free. Otherwise, your vaccination provider will be able to confirm the cost to get vaccinated.
Are there any people who should not get vaccinated?
The flu vaccine is not recommended for children under 6 months of age.
It may also not be suitable (or may need to be delayed) for people who are receiving certain cancer treatments; for those who have previously had a serious reaction to a flu vaccination or who are severely allergic to chicken eggs. If you fit any of these criteria, you should consult your doctor before booking your vaccination appointment.
If you are unwell, you should delay your appointment until you have recovered.
All other individuals should book in to get their flu vaccination as soon as possible.
How does the vaccine work – and will it give me the flu?
The influenza vaccine cannot give you the flu – because it does not contain a live flu virus.
By using the dead virus, the vaccine teaches your body what the flu looks like – enabling your immune system to create the right antibodies to fight it.
Usually it takes around a fortnight for your body to build up this protection, after receiving the vaccination.
What are the side effects of the flu vaccine?
Most people will have no reaction to the vaccine, but there are a few minor side effects, commonly experienced in the first 1-2 days after you receive your injection – and usually settle within a few days.
These can include:
Pain, swelling or redness around the injection site
Feeling unwell, tired or weak
Loss of appetite
If these symptoms persist, or are causing concern, you should contact your doctor.
In very rare cases, you may develop an allergic reaction – which could include a skin rash, itching, blisters, peeling skin, swelling of your face, lips or mouth, or problems breathing.
If you develop any of these symptoms, you should immediately contact your doctor, or call Healthline on 0800 611 116.
Can I still get the flu even after I’ve been vaccinated?
Yes, it is possible to get sick with the flu after getting vaccinated - although symptoms will usually be milder, and you will be far less likely to develop complications.
This is possible for a number of reasons:
You may have been exposed to the flu virus either shortly before immunisation, or during the fortnight it takes for the body to build up immunity.
You may have been exposed to a strain of the virus that is not covered by the vaccine. Vaccines usually cover the 3 or 4 strains that are expected to be most common during that flu season.
The level of protection given by the flu vaccine varies from person to person – depending on a number of factors, including health and age. Even though it does not provide 100% protection, it’s our best bet in keeping ourselves safe from the flu.
If I get the flu vaccination, will I also be protected against COVID-19?
No – the flu vaccination does not provide protection against COVID-19. However, if you catch the flu and COVID-19 virus at the same time, it can make you very ill so there are benefits to still getting your flu vaccination.
Can I get the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?
Ideally, there should be at least a 14-day gap between your influenza vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine. While it doesn’t matter which vaccine you receive first, it’s best to talk to your doctor about recommended timings, to ensure you’re protected against both viruses.