Apr 23rd, 2018
We had a bad flu season last year. 2017's flu in Australia, the most widespread in a decade, caused an estimated 1127 deaths. It had two and a half times as many reported cases as in 2016. The season also ran longer than usual, giving plenty of opportunity to catch the bug. Both the old and the young were hospitalised.
The antidote? Get a flu shot. It’s your best bet. However, a flu vaccine is far from perfect. A new one must be devised each year and, while it's not quite a stab in the dark, it's part educated guesswork, part gamble. Influenza viruses are mercurial and variable, making the quest for the perfect vaccine very difficult. The flu vaccine's effectiveness can be as low as 20 to 30 per cent. Some years, it's been recorded as even less than that. A good year is about 60 per cent effectiveness.
So why bother with a flu shot? Experts insist it's better than nothing and provides at least partial protection. It also lowers the risk of passing flu on to vulnerable groups, such as the elderly or chronically ill. The downside: it doesn't help everyone; you can get it too early or too late for it to be of much use. Recommendations from both the AMA (Australian Medical Association) and RACGP (Royal Australian College of General Practitioners), say the best time to get the flu shot is towards the end of April and into the beginning of May. It may not work as well in people over 65. Why? Because just as older people start losing their ordinary memory, their body's immune "memory" also fades. It forgets how to fight off infections it might have encountered previously. It's the reason two new and stronger-dose vaccines for older people have now been approved by the federal government for use here.
As to those who don’t get the flu shot because they say that it gives them the flu; it's impossible, literally impossible. There is no infectious [active] influenza virus in the vaccines. What is not impossible is that at the same time as you got vaccinated, somebody next to you sneezed and you picked up the actual flu then, before the vaccine had its two-week period to get you some immunity. There are also multiples of flu virus circulating. The vaccine will protect you against some strains and not others.
Under the Federal Government's National Immunisation Program, there are some people that are eligible for a free flu vaccine because they are most at risk of poor outcomes. This includes:
- Pregnant women (at any stage of pregnancy)
- People aged 65 years and older
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months to five years
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and older
- People aged six months and over with medical conditions that mean they have a higher risk of getting serious disease (such as diabetes, severe asthma, lung or heart disease)
Several state and territory governments are also offering free flu jabs to children between six months and five years old, including in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and the ACT.
Now is the perfect time to act. Make an appointment with your GP to get the flu shot. It may save you a lot of time off work!
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