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Flu Vaccine FAQ

The influenza vaccine is used to prevent infection caused by the influenza (flu) virus. Find out what you need to know in this FAQ.

Flu Vaccine FAQ

The influenza vaccine is used to prevent infection caused by the influenza (flu) virus. Find out what you need to know in this FAQ.

What you need to know

When should I get the flu vaccine?

The official flu season runs from April to December.

It is best to get your flu vaccination before winter, as winter is when the flu is most active in our communities. It takes around two weeks after being immunised for the vaccine to become fully effective and for the body to develop immunity - that's when you'll be best protected. If you don't manage to get a flu vaccination before winter, it is still recommended to get it in the following months. It’s never too late to vaccinate. 

Why do I need to get the flu vaccine every year? 

For the best protection, you’ll need to get the flu vaccine every year because:

  • Protection against the flu reduces over time.

  • Each year the flu can be caused by different strains of flu viruses that might not be covered by the previous year’s vaccine.

  • Vaccination is the best way to prevent infection and reduce the seriousness of illness if you become infected. If you do get the flu after being vaccinated, you usually get a mild form of it, recover faster and are less likely to have serious complications.

How can I get the flu? 

The flu is a viral infection passed from person to person via infected droplets of the influenza virus commonly spread by sneezing and coughing by a person with the flu. Direct contact with these fluids into the nose, mouth, or eyes or indirect contact through contaminated surfaces can infect a person with the flu. The virus can survive outside the body on hard surfaces for up to a week, although will usually die within 24 hours.

How can I prevent spreading the flu?

  • Get immunised with an annual flu vaccine.
  • Stay at home if you are unwell.
  • Try not to touch your nose, mouth, ears or eyes, as the flu virus can enter your body this way.
  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with hot soapy water or use hand sanitiser.
  • Maintain coughing etiquette. Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue and dispose of any used tissues immediately.
  • After coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose, ensure appropriate hand washing or hand sanitiser techniques are followed.
  • Clean surfaces around the house more regularly, such as door handles, phones and bathroom surfaces.
  • Don’t share glasses, drink bottles or cutlery and wash dishes thoroughly.

What is the difference between a cold and the flu?

Because colds and flu share some symptoms, it is easy to confuse the two as they both occur more frequently in winter. The flu is a serious illness and is different from the common cold. A cold virus usually only affects the nose, throat and upper chest and is a mild illness that lasts up to 1-2 weeks, although some symptoms can last longer, e.g., a cough lasts for a few days. The flu is a moderate to severe illness with sudden onset of symptoms can be a serious illness that affects the whole body and can last for 7 - 10 days or longer. It can cause serious complications in some people.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Flu symptoms can be severe and are not to be confused with cold symptoms – with the flu you often don’t have the energy to get out of bed.

Symptoms of flu may include a combination of the following:

  • Fever greater or equal to 38°C.
  • Cough.
  • Sore throat.
  • Runny nose or stuffy nose.
  • Muscle aches and pains.
  • Headaches.
  • Sweats or chills.
  • Stomach upset, vomiting or diarrhoea.


Symptoms can last 1–2 weeks. A cough may last longer. It will probably be a few weeks before you feel like you've fully recovered.

Up to 80% of people don’t have symptoms but can still pass their flu on to other people. If you do get symptoms, they can come on suddenly and usually mean you are too sick to work, play sports or take planned holidays.

Who is most at risk of getting the flu?

Although anyone can get the flu, some people are more at risk of getting the flu than others. The Ministry of Health has identified that the following groups are at higher risk of developing complications from flu viruses and are therefore eligible for a free flu vaccine. They include those who:

  • Are pregnant or have just given birth
  • Very young children, especially babies under one year old
  • Are aged 65 years or over
  • Māori and Pacific peoples aged 55 to 64 years
  • Are significantly overweight
  • Have lung disease, including people who use asthma preventers
  • Have diabetes
  • Have heart disease
  • Have kidney problems
  • Have a serious medical condition, like cancer or conditions that affect the nervous or immune systems
  • Have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder

Who is eligible for a free flu vaccine? 

  • People 65 years old and over
  • Those with long-term conditions (like asthma, diabetes or cardiovascular disease)
  • People with reduced immune function
  • People who are pregnant
  • People with specific mental health conditions or addiction issues
  • Tamariki 4 years old and under who have been hospitalised for respiratory illness or have a history of significant respiratory illness.
  • It is also funded for people under 65 who are most at risk of becoming very sick from flu, such as people:

For a full list of criteria see the attached list here.


Can I get the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 Vaccine at the same time?

You can have any COVID-19 vaccination at the same time as your flu vaccination. There’s no need to leave a gap between these vaccines. If given at the same time, you will receive the vaccines at separate places on your arms and with different syringes. 

You will need to check if your vaccination provider can administer both before you arrive.

*Information from and

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