Influenza and the “common cold” are very different – influenza tends to be more serious with significant fatigue, muscle aches and reduced appetite – people often require a week or more off work. Pneumonia is a potential complication of influenza. A “cold” however, tends to be milder with coughing, sneezing and nasal congestion – people can tend still to work through a cold, perhaps taking only a day off if that.
The flu vaccine protects you against certain strains of the influenza virus. It does not protect you from all the potential strains (there are many!) – the vaccine is developed and changed yearly to reflect which strains are likely to affect the community that particular flu season. The effectiveness of the flu vaccine changes yearly but usually sits somewhere between 40-50% – it does reduce your risk of contracting the flu.
If you choose to have the vaccine you need to get the new vaccine annually. The effectiveness of the vaccine wears off after 3-4 months and the strains covered in the vaccine change from year to year.
Once you get the vaccine it takes just over 2 weeks to take effect – it does not work straight away.
Hand hygiene, covering noses and mouths when coughing and sneezing are still KEY to preventing spread of influenza! If you think you have influenza (muscle aches, fevers, fatigue) try and avoid contact with pregnant women, infants, the elderly and anyone who is immunocompromised.
Children from 6 months of age are eligible to get the vaccine; in Victoria the vaccine is funded for children under 5 years of age. For any child under 9 years having the vaccine for the first time 2 doses of the vaccine 4 weeks apart is required to induce the right immune response. From there on the child only needs 1 vaccine annually.
If you or your child have an allergy to egg (including anaphylaxis to egg) it is still safe to get the influenza vaccine. We ask anyone who has just been immunised to remain in the clinic for 15 minutes because if a reaction is going to occur it commonly occurs in this time period. We keep you in the clinic for 15 minutes so that we can easily intervene with adrenaline should it ever be required.
Anyone 65 and over is eligible to get a different flu vaccine funded by the Government called Fluad – essentially it is a more potent and enhanced vaccine and provides better protection against influenza in this age group.
Your arm might hurt for a day after the vaccine – for this reason it is best to avoid the gym and heavy lifting 24 hours after the vaccine. But the sore arm is much better than influenza trust me!
Finally – the flu vaccine doesn’t give you the flu. The vaccine is inactivated (it isn’t live)- it cannot infect you with the flu virus. If you get sick with a viral illness it’s likely you were going to get sick anyway after contact with another sick person and you can’t blame the vaccine, I’m sorry!