Healthy living

Influenza (flu) vaccine

The influenza vaccine is free in May and June in 2024 for everyone in Western Australia – book your appointment now.

Appointment fees may apply. Contact your immunisation provider for more information.
  • Influenza (flu) is a common, highly contagious virus that affects the respiratory system. It is a serious disease (especially for young children, the elderly, and during pregnancy).
  • Immunisation is safe, effective and the best way you can protect yourself and those around you against the flu.
  • The annual influenza vaccine is recommended for everyone from 6 months of age.
  • Timing is important – get the influenza vaccine in the cooler months between April and September.
Who should be immunised against influenza?

Immunisation against seasonal influenza is recommended for everyone aged from 6 months and over.

Influenza can have severe consequences for vulnerable people and place increased pressure on health systems at a time of year when hospitals are often at their busiest.

Vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect yourself from serious disease caused by influenza. By getting vaccinated against influenza, you can also help protect other people, especially people who are too sick or too young to be vaccinated. The more people who are vaccinated in your community, the less likely the disease will spread.

Some people at higher risk of serious complications from influenza are usually able to receive a free influenza vaccine. They include:

  • All Aboriginal people 6 months and over
  • Children aged 6 months to primary school Year 6
  • People aged 6 months or over who have medical conditions such as:
    • heart disease
    • kidney disease
    • chronic respiratory conditions
    • chronic illnesses that required regular medical attention or hospitalisation in the previous year
    • chronic neurological conditions
    • immunocompromising conditions
    • haematological disorders
    • diabetes and other metabolic disorders
    • children aged 6 months to 10 years receiving long-term aspirin therapy.
  • Pregnant people (at any stage of pregnancy)
  • People 65 years and older
  • Vulnerable persons aged 6 months and older, including:
    • persons experiencing homelessness
    • residents in congregate living settings, such as residential aged care, disability care, mental health hostels and youth group houses.

Note: The vaccine is free for the at-risk groups above, however patients may be charged a consultation fee. Check costs when making an appointment.

Influenza vaccination is also recommended for people who:

Some people are recommended to have 2 doses of the influenza vaccine within the space of one year. Please check with your immunisation provider to find out whether this applies to you.

Where to get the influenza vaccine

The influenza vaccine is available from immunisation providers such as community immunisation clinics and participating GPs (general practice), community pharmacies and Aboriginal Medical Services. For further information, contact your immunisation provider.

Workplaces seeking to reduce the impact of influenza infection on employees may also provide influenza vaccination programs for their staff.

When to get the influenza vaccine

The best time to get the influenza vaccine is in April/May, but you can get the influenza vaccine at any time during the influenza season, which is generally June to September. After vaccination it can take up to 2 weeks to develop immunity and protect you from influenza.

While the highest level of protection is in the first 3 to 4 months following vaccination, it is never too late to get vaccinated as influenza can circulate in the community all year round.

How the influenza vaccine works

Influenza viruses change every year because the influenza virus has a unique ability to change its surface structure. This means that even if you had influenza or an immunisation one year, your body’s immune system might be unable to fight the changed version of the virus that will be circulating the following year.

Each year, a new vaccine is developed (usually called the seasonal flu vaccine) and is available for those who wish to be immunised to ensure protection against the most recent and common circulating strains. The seasonal flu vaccine includes protection against four strains of influenza viruses.

The formulation of influenza vaccines used in Australia is determined each year by the Australian Influenza Vaccine Committee based on information and recommendations from the World Health Organisation.

You cannot get influenza from having an influenza vaccine as it does not contain live or killed virus. It is possible to be exposed to influenza viruses shortly before getting vaccinated or during the 2-week period after vaccination that it takes the body to develop immune protection. This exposure may result in you becoming sick from influenza before vaccine protection takes effect.

People may also mistake symptoms of other respiratory viruses for influenza symptoms. The influenza vaccine only protects against influenza disease, not other illnesses.

Influenza vaccine during pregnancy

Influenza can cause serious complications in pregnant women that can affect the unborn baby, and vaccination during pregnancy is the only way to protect infants younger than 6 months. The World Health Organisation recommends that pregnant women should receive the highest priority for influenza vaccination.

The influenza vaccine is free for pregnant women and can be given at any time during pregnancy, however protecting women during their second and third trimesters is a priority because this is the time when serious complications from influenza are more likely to occur. If a pregnancy overlaps two influenza seasons and the woman has already received influenza vaccine in the prior season, she can also receive the current season vaccine later in pregnancy.

The influenza vaccine has been given safely to millions of pregnant women worldwide over many years, and has not been shown to cause harm to pregnant women or their babies.

Vaccination in pregnancy is the most effective way to protect infants 5 months and younger For more information, see Immunisation in pregnancy.

Children aged 6 months to primary school Year 6

Children are at higher risk of serious complications from influenza. Even those who are normally fit and healthy can become seriously ill, with symptoms including convulsions (seizures or fits) and diarrhoea.

Rates of influenza infection and hospitalisation are also highest among children. Most childhood influenza-related hospitalisations and deaths occur among children without underlying medical conditions.

For eligible children, the influenza vaccine is safe, strongly recommended, and free. Children who have not previously had an influenza vaccine are recommended to receive two doses of influenza vaccines at least 4 weeks apart; this maximises the immune response to all vaccine strains.

You can also find further information about the recommended routine childhood immunisations and diseases they protect against by checking the WA childhood immunisation schedule.

People aged 65 years and over

People aged 65 years and over are at higher risk of serious complications from influenza than other healthy adults and are strongly recommended to get immunised against the influenza every year. Even those who are relatively healthy and rarely get sick are advised to get vaccinated.

For best protection against influenza, people aged 65 years and over are strongly advised to get the influenza vaccine every year. After vaccination it can take up to two weeks to develop protection.

There is a specific influenza vaccine available which is free and has been designed for people aged 65 years. The vaccine increases the immune system’s response among older adults, who are known to have a weaker response to immunisation.

The influenza vaccine pre-vaccination checklist

Before receiving the influenza vaccine, your immunisation provider will go through a pre-screening checklist with you. Make sure to tell them if you (or your child):

  • are unwell (have a temperature over 38.5°C).
  • have had a serious reaction to any vaccine.
  • have had a severe allergy to anything.
  • are under 6 months of age.
  • have had Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS).

People with a history of GBS have an increased likelihood in general of developing GBS again, and the chance of them coincidentally developing the syndrome following influenza vaccination may be higher than in persons with no history of GBS. Diagnosis of GBS is complex and must be made by a specialist.

The only reason not to have an influenza vaccine is following a severe (anaphylactic) reaction to a previous dose of influenza vaccine, or to any component of any vaccine. Allergic reactions to an influenza vaccine are very rare.

Your immunisation provider will help you decide whether the vaccine is recommended for you.

Vaccine safety

All vaccines available in Australia pass strict safety testing before being approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) (external site). AusVaxSafety is a national program to monitor the type and rate of reactions to each year's new influenza vaccine. Visit AusVaxSafety for more information (external site).

Learn more about vaccination safety.

Potential side effects

Some people experience common reactions such as pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, mild fever, muscle aches and/or drowsiness. Specific treatment is not usually required.

Any medicine, including the influenza vaccine, can have potentially serious side effects, such as severe allergic reaction. However, the risk of this is extremely small.

Learn more about the possible side effects of vaccination and how to manage them.

When to seek help

Serious reactions, like allergic reactions, are extremely rare. If you have a reaction that is unexpected, or if you are unsure, consult with your immunisation provider.

If you believe your reaction is severe or life-threatening you should call triple zero (000) for an ambulance or go to your closest emergency department.

Concerns about side effects

Any reactions causing you concern, whether minor or serious, should be reported to the Western Australian Vaccine Safety Surveillance (WAVSS) system (external site).

The WAVSS system is the central reporting service in WA for any significant adverse events following immunisation.

If you have experienced an adverse event (reaction) to a vaccine:

Your immunisation provider such as the doctor (GP) or other health professional should report all suspected significant reactions, but you can also do it yourself.

Where to get help

More information

Last reviewed: 10-05-2023

Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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