Flu season is approaching fast and Queensland Health is keen to stop the virus before it gets a hold with a new vaccination campaign.

With the influenza vaccine now available at GPs and vaccination providers around the state, Queensland Health is encouraging people to get their flu shot early.

Queensland Health chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young says early vaccines give people the chance to develop immunity before the worst of the season hits.

“We’ve had quite a lot of cases already this year,” she says. “We’re in the inter-seasonal period; we haven’t started our flu season yet, it normally starts around May, but so far this year we’ve seen over 900 cases of flu, which is more than double the average over the last five years for this period.”

Dr Young encourages particular at-risk groups, for whom the vaccine is free, to improve their protection against the disease, which kills around 2000 people each year across Australia.

“I don’t think that the flu varieties around this year are any worse than normal but it is a very bad disease, particularly in those who are vulnerable,” says Dr Young. “Those over the age of 65, or over the age of 15 if you’re an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and those people of any age who have chronic disease, and then the last group – which I think is a group often forgotten – is pregnant women.

“They’re all at risk, so it’s important that they protect themselves as much as they can – and one of the major ways of protecting yourself against getting the flu is the vaccine.”

Since the virus changes each year and the vaccination fades over time, it’s important for everyone to refresh their immunisation, even if they received a vaccination last year.

“The virus is a new version each year,” says Dr Young. “So this year we’ve got H1N1 in the vaccine formulation – that’s the swine flu virus – then we have two other viruses that haven’t been in previous vaccines.

“So whether or not you had the vaccine last year you do need to go again this year.”

Dr Young also reassures people about potential side effects of the vaccine.

“If you have an allergy to egg products or to some other things you can have side effects, but generally there aren’t. It can leave your arm a bit sore,” says Dr Young. “The risk of major side effects is extremely low so we reccomend everybody goes and gets the vaccination now.”

Scarborough mum and nurse Sam Wharemate and three-year-old daughter Macie received their vaccines today to help prevent illness.

“I want to know I am doing the best to protect my patients and my family so I have the vaccine ever year,” she says. “It’s important to keep it up to keep communities and families safe.”