School of Public Health and Community Medicine

Influenza and influenza vaccine

Dean of UNSW Medicine, Professor Peter Smith, receives his flu vaccine

Influenza is a viral infection which peaks in winter. It varies in severity from season to season, but during a severe season can infect up to 15% of adults and 30% of children.  Influenza causes death from direct viral effects and also from bacterial secondary pneumonia, particularly at the extremes of age. In most influenza epidemics, very young children and the elderly are worst affected. Others at risk include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with chronic conditions, such as diseases affecting the heart and the lungs and diabetes, or people who are immunosuppressed. Pregnant women are also at risk of complications. The full list of risk groups can be found here:

Being an infectious disease, it spreads within families and other close contacts.

The 2014 seasonal influenza vaccination is available now.  Influenza viruses mutate continually, so the vaccine needs to be updated annually to match the circulating strains.  Vaccine protection is strain-specific. Influenza vaccine is inactivated product, so it cannot cause the flu. The vaccines are safe and effective, although one brand, Fluvax, is not approved for children under the age of five years because of an increased risk of febrile seizures. 

Research shows the influenza vaccine can also protect against heart attacks. Given that ischaemic heart disease is the leading cause of illness and death in the world, the impact of influenza vaccine in preventing heart attacks could be significant on a population level.

The rates of influenza vaccination for people aged 65 years and over are high, but people aged less than 65 years with medical risk factors are less likely to be vaccinated. Only 30-50% of people with risk factors get vaccinated each year.

Anyone in the groups recommended for vaccination on the National Immunisation Program schedule should get vaccinated as soon as possible, well before winter. UNSW Australia offers a free staff influenza vaccine clinic through the University Health Service. This clinic is organized, staffed and financed by the Health Service. We have a very experienced team of highly qualified immunization certified nurses administering the vaccines. 

Appointments can only be made online using the following link:

Staff can also seek immunization when attending the Health Service for other reasons.