Get ready for winter with Professor Paul Kelly

Winter's arrival brings more than cold weather. The drop in temperature also brings a rise in respiratory illnesses like influenza (the flu).

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To help us navigate the upcoming winter season, we talked to Professor Paul Kelly, Head of the interim Australian Centre for Disease Control (CDC). He shares his top health tips this winter.

The increased health risks of winter

The colder weather and increased time indoors can make it easier for some viruses to spread from person to person. This increases the risk of illnesses such as the flu and COVID-19.

Professor Kelly says there's a direct link between cold weather and the increase in infections. He urges everyone to be extra vigilant during winter.

'Colder weather means more infections and illnesses circulate in our community,’ Professor Kelly said.

Who needs a flu or COVID-19 vaccine this winter?

Vaccinations are a powerful tool during winter to protect ourselves and our loved ones against serious illness. 

‘Protect yourself by getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu,’ Professor Kelly advises.

Now’s the time to get your annual flu shot. For adults, you should consider a COVID-19 booster if it's been 6 to 12 months since your last dose. However, this depends on your age and risk factors.

The Department of Health and Aged Care has developed an online eligibility checker to help people work out if and when they are eligible for a COVID-19 booster vaccination in 2024. This tool does not replace advice from health professionals. People should still speak with their health professional about their COVID-19 vaccinations.

If you’re not sure if you should get a vaccine, here are the 2024 recommendations for winter:

Flu vaccine

Annual flu vaccination is recommended for all people over the age of 6  months.

The flu vaccine is available for free through the Australian Government’s National Immunisation Program for people most at risk of becoming severely ill from the virus. People eligible for free NIP flu vaccine include: 

  • children aged 6 months to under 5 years
  • pregnant people
  • First Nations Australians
  • people aged 65 years or older
  • people with certain medical conditions that put them at higher risk of complications from influenza.

It’s very important for people to have the annual flu vaccine before the peak of the flu season. In Australia, this typically occurs between June and September each year.

You can book an appointment at: 

  • your general practice
  • community health centres
  • Aboriginal health services
  • pharmacies.

COVID-19 vaccine

Australians aged 65 and over, and adults who are severely immunocompromised, are eligible to receive a free COVID-19 vaccine dose every 6 months.

And for all other adults, a single dose is available for free this year.

You can book your COVID-19 vaccine by using the healthdirect Service Finder.

People at risk of severe illness this winter

When we spend more time indoors, we’re in closer contact with others. This raises the risk of infections like flu and COVID-19 spreading between us. 

Winter viruses are very common and are treatable in most cases. However, they can be dangerous for some people, especially if they live in aged or disability care homes.

Children under the age of 5 years, even those who are healthy, are especially vulnerable to the flu and its complications.

Pregnant people who catch the flu during pregnancy have an increased risk of becoming very sick or dying. They are also at higher risk of preterm birth.

Vaccinating pregnant people has the added benefit of protecting the baby from the flu in the first 6 months of life. This is important because babies younger than 6 months are too young to be vaccinated against flu.

Australians aged 75 years and over continue to be recommended a dose of COVID-19 vaccine every 6 months. People aged over 65 years of age, and adults with severe immunocompromise, are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine dose every 6 months. All other adults can receive a single dose this year. Talk to your healthcare professional about your COVID-19 vaccinations.

Getting vaccinated against flu and COVID-19 helps to reduce your risk of severe or potentially life-threatening illnesses.

Layering up against viruses

Just as we add extra layers of clothing to protect against the cold, we should also take multiple measures to protect against viruses. 

Professor Kelly recommends we all:

  • stay home if we’re sick or have cold or flu symptoms
  • wear masks in crowded places
  • make good hygiene a priority – this includes washing our hands regularly and sneezing into a tissue or elbows.

Just like how a coat, scarf, and gloves work together to keep you warm, doing these things can protect us from getting sick this winter.

‘Let's give ourselves the best possible protection from viruses this winter,’ Professor Kelly said.