Australians urged to have their annual flu vaccine dose ahead of winter

Head of the interim Australian Centre for Disease Control Professor Paul Kelly urges Australians to get vaccinated against the flu this winter.

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With winter approaching, bringing with it an expected surge in community circulation of respiratory viruses, Australians are being strongly encouraged to make sure they are up to date with their vaccinations – particularly against influenza, also known as the flu.

Winter coincides with an increased risk of illnesses such as the flu and other respiratory viruses. Fortunately, for many people, these viruses will only produce mild symptoms. However, they can also cause serious illness in otherwise healthy people. And in rare cases, they can require hospitalisation – and even cause death. Respiratory illnesses can also be particularly severe in some of the most vulnerable members of our community – including the very young and older Australians.

While it’s too early to know for certain how severe our 2024 flu season will be, there have already been more than 37,700 laboratory-confirmed cases across Australia this year, up 40 per cent over the same period last year.

Flu case numbers this year have been higher in Australia than usually expected over the summer period, which may reflect greater community circulation of the virus. It may also reflect an increased willingness by people to get tested for respiratory infections on the back of a rise in COVID-19 cases over summer across much of Australia.

It is very important people have their annual flu vaccine dose before the peak of the flu season, which in Australia typically occurs between June and September each year.

Last year, Australia experienced an early peak in flu cases, in late June – and the season was longer, if milder, than many pre-COVID-19 seasons.

Tomorrow (24 April) marks the start of World Immunisation Week – and it celebrates 50 years since the World Health Organisation launched its Expanded Program on Immunisation that has prevented the deaths of countless people from vaccine-preventable diseases.

And so this week I am encouraging all eligible Australians to make sure they book in their annual flu vaccine dose and ensure they are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccine doses. Given how busy people often are, it is important to know you can get vaccinated against COVID-19 at the same time you have your flu dose.

Annual flu vaccination is recommended for all people aged six months and over – and it is available for free through the Australian Government’s National Immunisation Program for those most at risk of becoming severely ill from the virus.

Children under the age of five years, even those who are healthy, are especially vulnerable to the flu and its complications. Vaccinating children is critical to safeguarding their health and helping to prevent the virus from spreading in the community. For these reasons, I strongly urge parents and carers to prioritise all their children’s vaccinations, including their flu vaccine.

It is strongly recommended that people who are pregnant receive a flu vaccine at any stage of pregnancy, and in every pregnancy. Pregnant people who catch the flu during pregnancy have an increased risk of becoming very sick or dying and are at higher risk of preterm birth.

Vaccinating pregnant people has the added benefit of protecting the baby from the flu in the first six months of life. This is important because babies younger than six months are too young to be vaccinated against flu.

Australians aged 65 or over, and adults who are severely immunocompromised, are eligible to receive a free COVID-19 vaccine dose every six months. For those aged 75 years or over, a dose is recommended every six months. And for all other adults, a single dose is available for free this year.

There are plenty of doses of flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine available – so make an appointment with your GP, pharmacist or other vaccine provider to receive your vaccination.

I strongly encourage aged care homes to make sure their residents and staff are protected against the flu and COVID-19 by being properly vaccinated. Older age continues to be the biggest risk factor for severe COVID-19.

All aged care workers who provide close personal care to older Australians should be vaccinated against COVID-19. And all aged care providers should be offering free annual flu vaccinations for staff and volunteers and facilitating access for eligible residents.

Although staying up to date with recommended vaccinations is the most important way to protect yourself from becoming seriously ill, there are other simple things we can do that provide additional protection and help to limit the spread of the flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses.

Continue to practise all the safe hygiene measures we got so accustomed to during the pandemic, such as covering coughs and sneezes, washing your hands regularly and staying home if you’re feeling sick.

The combination of being properly vaccinated and observing these simple hygiene practices will provide you with the greatest level of protection possible over the winter months.

Further information about the benefits of vaccination is available at

By Professor Paul Kelly
Head of the interim Australian Centre for Disease Control