The flu and COVID-19

Are COVID-19 and influenza the same?

No. COVID-19 and influenza (flu) are caused by different viruses. Both COVID-19 and influenza cause respiratory illness. The symptoms, which can range from mild through to severe and sometimes fatal, are often very similar.

Symptoms

The key symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath. Less common symptoms include loss of smell, loss of taste, runny nose, muscle pain, joint pain, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite.

The most common symptoms of influenza are fever, cough, sore throat, or runny nose, body aches, feeling tired and fatigued, and loss of appetite.

For more information on symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza, see our factsheet on identifying the symptoms of COVID-19. For more information on COVID-19 testing criteria, visit our Getting tested page.

Transmission

Both viruses are transmitted in the same way, through contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze, or from touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that are contaminated with the virus from an infected person and then touching your mouth or face.

This means that the same public health measures are important to prevent both infections. These include keeping yourself away from other people as much as possible when you are unwell, and practising good hygiene , including washing your hands regularly and good respiratory etiquette (coughing into your elbow or into a tissue and immediately disposing of the tissue).

Differences

An important difference between the two viruses is the incubation time (the time from infection to appearance of symptoms) with influenza typically having a shorter incubation period than COVID-19.

While both viruses can cause severe disease, it appears severe and critical disease occurs more commonly in people with COVID-19 compared to influenza.

Will the flu vaccine protect me against COVID-19?

The flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19, but it is highly recommended that you get vaccinated each year to prevent influenza infection. If you become infected with influenza it can lower your immunity and make you susceptible to other illnesses, like COVID-19.

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

Yes, it is possible to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Getting both illnesses at once could make you very sick so it’s important to get your flu vaccination to avoid this happening to you.

How long does it take for the flu vaccine to give me immunity?

The best time to get the influenza vaccine is before winter and flu season. It takes about two weeks to develop immunity following vaccination. While protection is generally expected to last for the whole season, optimal protection against influenza occurs within the first 3 to 4 months following vaccination. As the influenza virus is in the community all year it is never too late to have the vaccination.

Who is more susceptible to flu?

People who are at higher risk of getting influenza and developing complications include:

  • children aged 6 months to under 5 years
  • pregnant women
  • people aged 65 years and older
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and older
  • people aged 6 months and older with underlying medical conditions such as
    • cardiac disease
    • chronic respiratory conditions
    • chronic neurological conditions
    • immunocompromising conditions
    • diabetes and other metabolic disorders
    • renal disease
    • haematological disorders
    • long-term aspirin therapy in children aged 6 months to 10 years.

Is the flu vaccine free?

People who are at higher risk of getting influenza and developing complications are eligible for a free vaccine under the National Immunisation Program (NIP).

General Practitioners (GPs), pharmacists and other immunisation providers may charge a consultation fee for administering the vaccine. You should check this at the time of booking.

ACT Health Early Childhood Immunisation Clinics (for children aged 6 months to under 5 years) and ACT Health Antenatal Clinics (for pregnant women) don’t charge a consultation fee. Call Central Health Intake 02 5124 9977 to make an appointment.

Where can I get the flu vaccine?

Influenza vaccines are available at GPs, some pharmacies (10 years and over) and Early Childhood Immunisation Centres (6 months to under 5 years). Some workplaces also provide influenza vaccines for staff.

It's important to call ahead and make an appointment to ensure that your GP has flu vaccines in stock.

Is there enough supply of the flu vaccine?

ACT Health has secured enough vaccines for all ACT residents who are eligible for the free vaccine under the National Immunisation Program (NIP). This includes children aged 6 months to under 5 years; people 65 years of age and older; pregnant women; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and older; and people aged 6 months and over with underlying medical conditions.

For those Canberrans not eligible for the free vaccine under the NIP, the influenza vaccine is available through private market stock purchased directly by immunisation providers, including GPs and pharmacies.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia (PGA) and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) has advised that pharmacies are experiencing high and earlier demand for flu vaccines this year. ACT Health recommends that you call your GP and ring around for a pharmacy that has the flu vaccine in stock. As the flu season progresses, more vaccines will become available.

I am over 70 and have been urged to stay home as much as possible. Should I leave my house to get the flu vaccine?

People aged over 70 have been urged to remain at home as much as possible and to leave their homes only to shop for food or other essential supplies, to seek medical care or to exercise.

Being immunised against influenza is an important part of their medical care and strongly encouraged. You can help protect yourself by practising good hygiene and staying 1.5 metres away from other people.

Make sure you call your GP or pharmacy first to make an appointment.

Where can I get more information on influenza immunisation?

For more information on influenza immunisation visit the ACT Health website.

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Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the ACT, the Ngunnawal people. We acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region.

Last Updated: May 08 2020