The flu (known as influenza) is an infectious virus that can cause serious problems when you’re pregnant. Pregnancy can lower the immune system so pregnant women can be more prone to getting the flu or developing severe symptoms.
Flu vaccination is the best protection for you and your baby. It is safe and can lower your risk of getting the virus or developing complications (e.g. pneumonia).
With the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, it is more important this year to get a flu shot. Although the flu shot won’t prevent or treat COVID-19, getting a flu shot can reduce your risk of developing both COVID-19 and influenza at the same time.
What are symptoms of the flu?
Symptoms of the flu include:
- Body aches
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
Flu during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, can cause serious complications. If you feel unwell or develop any of the above symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible. The flu can be treated safely and quickly with antiviral medications.
It’s important to avoid the flu and take precautions. A flu vaccination is the best way to protect you and your baby against the flu while pregnant. You can also avoid the flu by regularly washing your hands, avoid touching your face and keeping away from people who are sick.
Is the flu vaccine safe for pregnant women?
The flu vaccine is safe for pregnant women and unborn babies, at any stage of pregnancy. It will provide protection for your newborn during the first few months of life when your baby is too young to be vaccinated.
The flu vaccine is also free when you’re pregnant if you get it from your GP.
If you got a flu shot before you were pregnant then your doctor may recommend you get another vaccination during pregnancy to give protection to your unborn baby.
Your flu vaccination should be recorded on your antenatal record card and the Australian Immunisation Register by your doctor.
When is the best time to get a flu shot?
If you’ve had a flu shot before or even if you got the flu shot last winter, it’s best to get the vaccine every year because each flu season is different and vaccines are re-formulated every year.
It’s best to get a flu shot before the start of each influenza season, which usually peaks from June to September in Australia. It takes the body about 2 weeks after a flu shot to make antibodies to attack the flu virus.
Health experts think that COVID-19 will coincide with the annual influenza season in Australia and both viruses could be circulating at the same time over this year’s winter. There are concerns that the health system may not cope with the impact of this combination which has spent several weeks ramping up resources to manage COVID-19 patients.
Supplies of flu vaccines were available at the end of March so all Australians are being urged to get their flu shot as soon as possible.
If you are unwell or have any flu-like symptoms (e.g. fever, sore throat, cough) then you shouldn’t get a flu shot just yet. Wait until you’re feeling well again.
Who else should get a flu shot?
It is recommended that everyone aged over 6 months old should get the flu vaccination. In addition to pregnant women, the following groups of people are considered to be at-risk of severe illness if they get the flu, and are eligible for a free flu vaccine from their GP:
- Children aged 6 months to 5 years old
- People aged 65 years and over
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanfer people aged 6 months and over
- People aged 6 months and over with medical conditions (e.g. heart disease, asthma or other respiratory condition, diabetes, etc)
This is funded by the Australian Government under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) and is available throughout Australia.
Can I get a flu shot from a pharmacy?
Pharmacists have been safely giving flu shots in pharmacies since 2015. Authorised pharmacists who have completed vaccination training are able to give the flu shot to anyone aged 10 years and over. However vaccinations at a pharmacy needs to be privately funded by you. A pharmacy flu shot costs about A$20, regardless of whether you have a Medicare or concession card.
Most states and territories in Australia allow authorised pharmacists to vaccinate pregnant women (each state and territory has different laws). But you can’t get a free vaccine from a pharmacy even if you are eligible for a free vaccination, you will need to get it from a GP.
So far this year pharmacists have experienced high early demand for flu vaccinations, probably because of the coronavirus pandemic. Most pharmacies allow you to book a vaccination on their website where you will be able to see available appointment dates and times.
What other vaccinations should I get during pregnancy?
Whooping cough (known as pertussis) is a highly contagious infection. The whooping cough vaccination is free and recommended between 20 and 32 weeks. If both the whooping cough and flu vaccines are needed at the same time, they can both be safely given together.
Australian Government Department of Health (2020). Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). Statement on the administration of seasonal influenza vaccines in 2020. Issued in March 2020. Accessed online: https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/03/atagi-advice-on-seasonal-influenza-vaccines-in-2020.pdf