Children and flu

Annual vaccination is the best form of protection against the flu

Flu is dangerous

In Australia, severe influenza or ‘the flu’ is the leading cause of hospitalisation for children under 5 and can sometimes be fatal.

The flu is a disease that is easily spread and mainly affects the upper airways and lungs.

The flu is not the same as a common cold and people with the flu may have symptoms that range from mild to moderate to severe.


Annual vaccination is the best protection

Vaccination is the best way to reduce the risk of preventing the flu and its complications. Being vaccinated gives you protection against flu by building immunity to the virus and preventing transmission of the virus to other people and is recommended annually for any person over 6 months of age.

It is important for children under 5

Children are much more likely to contract the flu in any given season compared to adults. Children under 5 have some of the highest rates of the flu and associated complications causing the most hospital admissions of all other vaccine-preventable diseases in children of this age.

The flu can cause substantial illness in children, which may require a visit to the emergency department or GP due to high fever, cough, pneumonia and convulsions. Whilst rare, severe complications such encephalitis (life threatening brain inflammation) can also occur.

Not only are the flu infection rates generally highest among children, children also contribute greatly to transmission of the flu in the community (super spreaders).

Vaccination is proven to reduce a child’s risk of contracting the flu and suffering from its complications.

Vaccinating young children protects the wider community by reducing the amount of virus circulating in the community. It also helps protect people who are more vulnerable to serious complications from flu such as babies, older people and people with chronic medical conditions.

Vaccinations are safe

The flu vaccine is safe and effective.

Vaccines given to children in Australia must pass rigorous testing before being registered for use by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Even when the vaccine is registered for use, its safety continues to be monitored.

Why the flu vaccine is needed every year

Everyone should have a flu vaccine every year because flu viruses constantly change. Flu viruses are quick-change artists. They reproduce rapidly, constantly mutate and exchange genes with each other. For these reasons there is a new flu vaccine every year.

Protection from the vaccine decreases over time and with the flu viruses constantly changing, it is important children are vaccinated every year to ensure the best protection from the latest flu strains.

Where to get the free flu vaccine

Free flu vaccines are available for children aged between 6 months to under 5, from GPs, community health clinics, Aboriginal Medical Services and other immunisation providers. Some GPs may charge a fee for consultation but the vaccine itself is free.

Although chemists may have flu vaccines, they are unable to give the vaccine to anyone under the age of 16.

The best time for children to get the flu vaccine

The best time for a child to get the flu vaccine is prior to the flu season, if they are 6 months or older. Getting the vaccine from April will provide protection before the flu season, which is usually May to September, in Queensland. It generally takes 10 to 14 days to be fully protected after getting the vaccine.

Children aged 6 months to less than 9 years will require 2 doses of the vaccine at least 4 weeks apart the first time they are vaccinated against flu.

Possible side effects

Common side effects from the vaccine are usually mild and will pass within a few days. They may include redness or mild pain at the site of injection, muscle aches, fever, and headache.

Severe adverse reactions to the vaccine are very rare. If you need advice contact your GP or immunisation provider.

The difference between a cold and the flu

Colds and the flu are both viral respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. Both these illnesses can have similar symptoms and at first it can be difficult to tell the difference.

In general, the symptoms of the flu are more severe and last longer than those of a cold. While colds usually pass in a few days, the flu can have life-threatening consequences.

How the flu spreads

The flu spreads:

  • when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and another person breathes it in,
  • through direct contact with fluid from an infected person’s coughs or sneezes,
  • by touching a surface with the flu virus on it, and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose.

The flu can spread easily through families, workplaces, childcare centres and schools. If you have the flu, you can help stop it spreading by:

  • staying away from childcare, school, work or other places where you could spread it until you are well,
  • using your elbow to cover your coughs and sneezes,
  • washing your hands often.

Flu symptoms children may experience:

    • fever
    • chills
    • body aches
    • headaches
    • sore throat
    • runny nose
    • cough
    • loss of appetite
    • lack of energy
    • diarrhoea
    • vomiting.

Symptoms usually start about 1 to 3 days after catching the flu and can last for a week or more. Some people can be mildly affected, while others can become seriously ill.

If you experience flu-like symptoms, please visit your GP or other health care provider.

Help fight the flu

Practising cough etiquette (such as covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing) and good hand hygiene can help to reduce the likelihood of transmitting and contracting the flu virus. Anyone who is unwell with the flu should stay home from school, work and social gatherings to prevent close contact with other people.

5 easy steps to help fight the flu

  1. Get a flu shot each year
  2. Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol based hand rub
  3. Cover your coughs and sneezes
  4. Dispose of any used tissues immediately – the flu virus can live outside the human body for a number of hours
  5. Stay at home if you have flu symptoms


Frequently asked questions

Children under 5 are being offered free vaccine because of all the vaccine-preventable diseases, influenza causes the most hospital admissions of children under 5 years of age.

Children 5 years of age and over are not eligible for free influenza vaccine but still benefit from vaccination, and it can be obtained under private prescription from your doctor

Febrile seizures (or convulsions) can be triggered by fever from any cause. A small number of children (2-4%) are susceptible to febrile seizures up until about six years of age. The seizures themselves usually last around one or two minutes and loss of consciousness is possible. Nearly all children who have a febrile seizure, regardless of the cause, will recover quickly without any ongoing effects or permanent neurological (brain) damage.

Influenza itself can cause fever which may result in febrile seizures. Febrile seizures related to fever after influenza vaccination are uncommon and occur in less than one in every 1,000 children who receive the vaccine.

Enhanced safety monitoring systems for influenza vaccines introduced in recent years, such as AusVaxSafety, have confirmed that influenza vaccine is safe in children under five years of age, with low rates of fever and medical attendance reported after vaccination.

Although influenza vaccines are grown in eggs, due to new vaccine manufacturing methods, the amount of material from the egg in the influenza vaccine is small (usually less than one microgram of egg protein per dose).

Recent studies have shown that people with egg allergy, including egg-induced anaphylaxis, have safely received the influenza vaccine.

Even though the risk of anaphylaxis or an adverse event is very low, if your child has this type of allergy you should seek advice about influenza vaccine from your healthcare provider, you may be advised to have your child vaccinated in a setting where immediate treatment for a possible reaction is available.

Yes. Childhood vaccines which are scheduled for children in the same months as the flu season, can safely be given to children at the same time. Speak to your doctor or vaccine provider about the best timing.

It takes 10-14 days to develop an immune response to the flu vaccine which means you are still able to catch the flu during that time, so have your flu vaccine before flu is widespread in your community.

There are also other viruses that circulate during winter months that can also cause similar flu like symptoms such as the common cold virus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) especially in the young and the elderly. Differences between cold and flu.

Everyone should have a flu vaccine every year because flu viruses constantly change. Flu viruses are quick-change artists. They reproduce rapidly, constantly mutate and exchange genes with each other. For these reasons there is a new flu vaccine every year.

For more information on flu immunisation or to find your nearest vaccine service provider, contact Queensland Health on 13 HEALTH (13 432 584).

Other resources

Read more about the flu here: Influenza


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