Some of the biggest flu vaccine questions answered
25 July 2019
When the flu can hit you like a bus and leave you out of action for weeks, it’s best to be prepared. So if you didn’t get the flu jab this winter, you might be curious why it’s so important.
Didn't get the flu jab this year? Here's why it's worth it
Too many of us assume that because we’re healthy, young or fit that we don’t need to bother with preventative measures, but it’s important to think about protecting yourself – and those you love – with a flu vaccine.
Influenza affects around one in four New Zealanders each year – and it’s not just those with a low immune system that are affected. When the flu strikes, symptoms include fever, chills, aches, runny nose, a cough and an upset stomach. The virus can be serious enough to send you to hospital or leave you bedridden. It’s among the top causes of mortality in New Zealand, killing hundreds each year and your best defence against the flu is immunisation.
Before misinformation gets in the way and prevents you from getting a flu vaccine in future, read these commonly asked questions about the virus and vaccine.
What are your chances of getting the flu?
Each year, about 10-20% of people in New Zealand get the flu. Some years it can be as high as 26%. Based on these stats, your chance of getting the flu could be as high as one in four.
Older people, young children, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from influenza, such as pneumonia.
Should you get the flu vaccine?
As recommended by the Ministry of Health, vaccination or the annual ‘flu jab’ is your best defence against influenza. Even if you still catch influenza after the vaccine, your symptoms are likely to be less severe.
Besides, the vaccine is not just for your protection, it helps stop the spread of the killer virus throughout New Zealand communities.
How does the flu jab work?
The flu vaccine works by making your immune system produce special cells called ‘antibodies’ that will attack and kill the flu virus when it enters your body. In essence your bloodstream after the flu jab has the ability to fight germs quickly.
However, for it to remain effective, it is recommended to get the flu vaccine every year. Each year the vaccine is improved to match the different virus strains you’re likely to come across.
In New Zealand the flu vaccine season is usually available from April and is best if you get it before the start of winter. Getting the jab later in flu season (mid-winter) is still effective.
Can the flu vaccine give you the flu?
It’s a common misconception that the vaccine will give you the flu, but it has no live viruses - it can’t give you influenza. However, there is the possibility you’ll experience short term side effects such as muscle-aches or headaches after you get the jab and this can be mistaken as the flu.
Can you get allergic reactions from the flu jab?
Allergic reactions to the flu vaccine are very rare. If you have had a severe allergic reaction or Guillain Baree Syndrome following the flu vaccine in the past, let your medical practitioner know before having another flu vaccination.
What’s involved in getting the flu jab and where can you get it?
Getting a flu jab is quite simple. The medical practitioner administering cleans the area – usually your arm – with alcohol. The injection takes a couple of seconds and is not painful. You may experience a slight muscle-ache or headache after.
You can get a flu vaccine by making a single visit to your doctor or practice nurse. Some workplaces also offer an annual flu jab and there are also a number of pharmacies around the country that administer the vaccine.
When should you get the vaccine?
According to the Ministry of Health the chances of the flu virus circulating is highest in winter. Hence the best time to get vaccinated is before the onset of the cold season. The vaccine is usually available from April. It can take two weeks for the vaccine to be fully effective, so it’s recommended that you take it before June – but still effective for the remaining flu season if taken later in winter.
Who can get the flu vaccine for free?
The flu vaccine is free for New Zealanders who are:
65 years and over
pregnant women (any trimester)
under 65 who have certain medical conditions
children aged four years or under who have been hospitalised for respiratory illness or have a history of significant respiratory illness
Stop the spread of flu
The flu vaccine is a great start to protect yourself, your loved ones and the community from this dangerous virus.
There are other small ways you stop the spread of this infection:
Stay home when you are sick
Catching up with friends or heading to work is not recommended. You can help contain the germs by staying at home and avoiding any crowded places
Practise good cough etiquette
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. The inside of your elbow also works in the absence of a tissue. Throw away used tissues in a bin immediately
Wash your hands frequently - it's a great way to stop germs from spreading. Ensure you regularly wash your hands, especially after blowing your nose (or helping a sick child with a runny nose), sneezing, or rubbing your eyes.