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As flu season arrives, here’s the latest advice

Seniors are most at risk of acquiring viral diseases and doctors are again urging us to vax up.

  • Health
  • Read Time: 5 mins

Flu season is on the way and, once again, experts are encouraging Australians, especially those aged over 65, to get vaccinated. 

There’s even a special vaccine for the over-65s that contains four times as much flu virus antigen, which stimulates a boosted immune response, compared to the regular flu shot. 

Health experts are concerned at the low rate of vaccination take up across the nation, which they are putting down to vaccination fatigue. 

Here is the latest advice. 


Last year’s flu season was long, and the 2024 season could be even worse, in part due part to super-spreading travellers. That’s the view of Dr Michael Clements, vice president and rural chair of the Royal Australian College of GPs. 

“We’ve been isolated in the past [during the pandemic] so there isn’t a lot of herd immunity,” he said. 

“International travel is full steam ahead and we typically import our influenza from the northern hemisphere.” 

However, he said a higher rate of infections could also reflect the fact people can now buy at-home testing kits and find out if they have influenza or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). 

“In the past, we may never have even known they had influenza.” 

Unfortunately, your grandchildren may be most at risk this year, with experts says a significant number of children will be hospitalised. 

Last year, children between the ages of five and nine had the highest influenza notification rates, and the number of deaths in children under 16 was higher than in many pre-COVID pandemic years.  

Why? Because although their healthy, they’re not vaccinated. 

The higher the vaccine uptake, the lower the peak of infections, which makes the entire community safer, including those who aren’t vaccinated. 

The vaccine’s effectiveness rate is between 40% and 60%. 

The following groups can receive their vaccine for free under the National Immunisation Program (NIP): 

  • Children aged between six months and five years 
  • People over 65 
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 
  • Anyone who is pregnant 
  • Those with medical conditions that increase their risk of severe influenza. 

The Queensland Government recently announced it would pay the cost of the flu vaccine for all residents not covered by the NIP. Other state governments may introduce similar measures. 

April is a good month to get vaccinated because the vax reaches peak effectiveness in around four to six months. This means you have some protection when infections start ramping up in May and have maximum coverage at the peak, which is typically in August. 


For most people, RSV infection causes a mild respiratory illness. Symptoms usually begin around two to eight days after exposure to the virus. 

Symptoms can include: 

  • Runny nose 

  • Cough 

  • Wheeze 

  • Difficulty breathing 

  • Fever 

  • Cyanosis (bluish or greyish colour of the skin). 

For the elderly, it’s often RSV that triggers the pneumonia that kills them. The virus can infect the lungs and breathing passages and is the leading cause of hospitalisations in infants nationwide. 

Available vaccines

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) last year approved a drug called Nirsevimab, which is a long-acting antibody that's been shown to reduce infections by about 75% for up to five months. 

While Nirsevimab is not currently part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP), some states have free immunisation programs for infants and children. 

The TGA recently approved Arexvy, which is a protein-based vaccine, for the prevention of lower respiratory tract disease caused by RSV. 

It is currently only available on private prescription (which means the consumer pays the full cost) as it is not funded through the NIP. 

However, the manufacturer of Arexvy has applied for the vaccine to be made available for free through the NIP. 

After an inquiry from a member, NSA has established that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee will be considering Arexvy for listing at its meeting in late May.

COVID-19 and 'flu-rona'

COVID-19 transmission is low, but cases are expected to rise around the same time as the influenza and RSV peak. 

Doctors are concerned COVID will piggyback onto another cough or cold so if someone has RSV, they might then happen to get COVID and have dual infections and be even sicker. 

This is known as “flu-rona”, and older Australians and those who are immunocompromised are most at risk. 

Six-monthly COVID-19 boosters are now only recommended for those over the age of 75. Anyone over 18 can have an annual booster. 

If you’re 65 to 74 or severely immunocompromised you can have a six-monthly booster. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits. 

In fact, it’s a good idea to chat to the doctor about which vaccinations you should have. 

Free shingles jab

The risk of developing shingles increases with age. A new vaccine, tipped to be 90% effective, is available for older and immunocompromised Australians.  

Doctors say the pneumococcal vaccine is another important jab to get. 

Pneumococcal disease can cause a variety of diseases, including pneumonia and meningitis, and young children and the elderly are most at risk. 

It is free under the NIP for certain groups, including adults aged 65 and over and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 50 and over. 

Related reading: ABC, Health Direct 


John Austin

John Austin

Policy and Communications Officer, National Seniors Australia

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