Flu immunisation

Flu immunisation

The flu can be a serious and sometimes life-threatening infection. Yearly flu immunisation offers the best protection. It is especially important for children with certain long-term health conditions.

Key points to remember

  • the flu (influenza) can be a serious and sometimes life-threatening viral infection
  • it is not the same as having a bad cold
  • even if your child is fit and healthy, they can easily catch the flu
  • yearly flu immunisation offers the best protection
  • it is especially important, and free, for children with certain long-term health conditions, who may develop complications from the flu 
  • regular hand washing, covering mouths when coughing and keeping sick people away from healthy people will also reduce the spread of flu
  • make sure your family is ready to prevent the flu each year - ask your nurse or doctor about flu immunisation, including its cost, or phone 0800 IMMUNE (0800 466 863)

How easy to catch is the flu?

The flu virus is very easily spread and anyone can catch it – it doesn't matter how fit and healthy your child is.

It can spread through the air by coughing and sneezing as well as by hands, cups and other objects that have been in contact with an infected person's mouth or nose.

Can I do anything to prevent my child catching the flu?

Flu immunisation offers the best protection. It strengthens your child's ability to fight the flu.

Regular hand washing, covering mouths when coughing, and keeping sick people away from healthy people also reduces the risk of spreading the flu.

Which children need flu immunisation?

Flu immunisation is especially important for children with certain long-term (chronic) health conditions. This is because these children are most likely to develop complications from the flu, such as chest infections. If your child does have a long-term condition, make sure they have their flu immunisation every year before the winter starts. 

All children can benefit from flu immunisation. By immunising your child (or children), especially if they go to preschool, creche or daycare, you can protect them and your family.

When is flu immunisation available?

Flu immunisation is available from around March until 31 December each year.  

Is flu immunisation free for my child?

Your family doctor or practice nurse can tell you whether or not flu immunisation is free for your child. You can also phone the Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) on 0800 466 863.

Flu immunisation is likely to be free if you answer 'yes' to any of these questions

  • does your child have asthma and regularly use a preventer medication (brown, orange, red or purple inhaler)?
  • is your child aged under 5 years and has a significant respiratory illness or been in hospital for a respiratory illness (such as pneumonia, bronchiolitis, asthma)?
  • does your child have a heart condition (such as congenital heart disease or rheumatic heart disease)?
  • does your child have cancer?
  • does your child have an ongoing chest (respiratory) condition, such as bronchiectasis or cystic fibrosis?
  • does your child have diabetes?
  • does your child have ongoing kidney (renal) disease?
  • does your child have HIV or AIDS, an auto-immune disease or another immune deficiency?

(Your child will also need to be entitled to publicly funded health services in New Zealand. You can check the Ministry of Health's Guide to eligibility).

If you answered no to the questions, there is likely to be a cost

If you answered 'no' to all these questions, there is likely to be a cost for flu immunisation for your child. Check with your nurse or doctor. 

It's a good idea to have flu immunisation if you share a house with children who have long-term conditions

Flu immunisation is also recommended for those sharing a house with children and young people with long-term (chronic) medical conditions. The flu spreads rapidly within households and children are particularly efficient spreaders.

It may not be free for household members - they could ask their employer about free or subsidised flu immunisation as many employers offer this to their employees. Flu immunisation is free for some adults; for example, all those over 65 years of age and those with certain long-term conditions.

Flu immunisation is recommended and free to pregnant women

Flu immunisation offers protection in pregnancy. Flu is likely to be more severe in pregnancy and can affect the mother and the unborn baby. Immunisation also offers some protection to the newborn baby.

A Ministry of Health video. See the Ministry of Health website for a transcript.

Can flu immunisation give my child the flu?

Your child cannot get the flu from flu immunisation. There is no live virus in the flu vaccine. Many people confuse colds with the flu. There are many other viruses in the community which the flu vaccine will not protect against.

Can flu immunisation make my child sick?

Most people have no reaction to flu immunisation. It can be given to anyone except those with very severe egg allergy.

Sometimes your child may have one or more of the following responses:

  • soreness, redness, or swelling where the immunisation was given
  • fever
  • aches

These are usually mild and only last 1 or 2 days.

Can my child still get the flu even if they have had flu immunisation?

Vaccines are not 100 percent effective for all people, so some immunised people may still get the flu. If they do, symptoms are usually milder than if they had not had flu immunisation. If you'd like to know more about the effectiveness of flu immunisation, see the influenza vaccine information on the IMAC website

The content on this page was produced in collaboration with IMAC (Immunisation Advisory Centre).

This page last reviewed 14 September 2017.
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