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Flu vaccination for children

“Influenza is commonly known as the flu, and can leave us feeling washed out and unable to go about our daily lives. It is caused by a virus which spreads easily from person to person through infected droplets in the air and by touching contaminated surfaces. The flu vaccine is updated every season to protect the community from the latest strains of the virus. It is approved for use in young children (from six months of age) as well as adults.”

Dr Christine Bennett
Chair, Medical Advisory Panel, Bupa Australia

How does the flu vaccine work? 

The flu virus is constantly changing, meaning that each year different strains circulate in the community. The flu vaccine contains extracts from the three most common strains of flu most likely to circulate over the winter period in a given year.

Once your child is vaccinated, they will begin to produce antibodies to protect them from the virus.

This vaccine does not contain live virus and cannot give you influenza.2

Protection after vaccination varies from person to person, but you will generally start producing the antibodies that provide protection two weeks after vaccination. Influenza vaccines currently available protect against flu for about a year. To provide continuing protection, yearly immunisation with vaccine containing the most recent strains is necessary. The best time to vaccinate is in the autumn, before the actual expected outbreak in winter.

Should children get the flu vaccine? 

The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone from six months of age. It is available free of charge for all Australians aged six months of age and over with medical conditions that put them at risk of developing severe influenza, including:

  • heart disease (for example, coronary artery disease and heart failure)
  • chronic lung conditions (for example, severe asthma)
  • other chronic illnesses (for example, diabetes and kidney disease)
  • chronic neurological conditions (for example, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, and seizure disorders)
  • impaired immunity, including HIV, cancer and chronic steroid use.

Pregnant women and children aged six months to 10 years who are on long term aspirin therapy are also eligible for the free flu vaccination. For full protection, children aged between six months and 10 years should have two doses, a month apart, in their first year of vaccination. After this, they will only need one dose each year.

Flu vaccines are safe and have been used for children in Australia and around the world for many years. There are different brands of vaccine available, so speak with your GP about which is best for your child.

What about swine flu?

The H1N1 strain of the flu is known as swine flu and is still one of the most common strains of flu in Australia. The pandemic may be over, but the threat hasn’t completely passed. For this reason, it was included in the 2011 vaccine.

What if we're travelling overseas?

It's important that you and your children get flu vaccine before travelling overseas. Depending on where you're going, you may need other vaccines as well, so see your GP for specific advice.

Who shouldn’t have flu vaccine? 

Children shouldn't be given the flu vaccine if they have had a severe allergy (anaphylaxis) to the vaccine or to any of its components. Children who have had anaphylaxis after eating eggs shouldn't be vaccinated. If your child has had a milder reaction to egg, talk to your GP to find out if it's safe to give your child the flu vaccine.

Children who are moderately or severely ill with a fever should usually wait until they recover before getting the vaccine. Children with a mild illness can usually get the vaccine.

If you're worried, talk to your GP who can tell you if it's safe for your child to be vaccinated.

Side effects 

All medicines and vaccines can have unwanted side effects. The expected level of side effects from flu vaccine in children is the same as for adults. Around one in 10 people who get an influenza vaccine has some swelling, redness and/or pain where the injection is given. Other symptoms such as fever, tiredness, headaches and muscle aches are less common. These side effect can start within a few hours of vaccination and may last for one to two days.

In 2010, one brand of flu vaccine was shown to be associated with an increase in fevers and fever fits (convulsions) in children. That brand of vaccine was de-registered for use in 2011 for children less than five years of age. There are two different brands of vaccine available which were not associated with increased rates of fever or related illness in 2010, and are considered safe for children over six months of age. Speak with your GP about which brand is most suitable for your child.

Generally, an appropriate dose of a liquid paracetamol preparation for children can be used to treat pain or the symptoms of fever that can occur after vaccination. There are many different liquid paracetamol preparations and they aren't all the same strength so it's important to always read the dosing instructions and give as directed on the bottle. If you have any questions or concerns about the medicine or your child’s symptoms, talk to your pharmacist or GP.

Further information 

Immunise Australia


Department of Health and Ageing (DOHA). The Australian Immunisation Handbook. 9th ed. [online] Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. 2008 [Last updated Sept 2010, accessed 12 Jul 2011] Available from:

Get The Flu Shot Before The Flu Gets You: Brochure. [online] [last updated 10 Mar 2011, accessed 12 Jul 2011] Available from:

Immunise Australia. Influenza (flu). [online] 2011 [accessed 12 Jul 2011] Available from:

Therapeutic Goods Administration. Seasonal influenza vaccines – safety advisory. [online] Mar 2011 [Accessed 9 Jul 2011] Available from:

Last published: 30 July 2011

This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.