Flu vaccinations reduce risk of heart event

The flu (influenza) puts people with heart conditions at risk of serious illness. Even people without diagnosed heart conditions are more likely to have a heart attack after the flu. A flu vaccination reduces your chance of getting sick and going to hospital.

Lady receiving a vaccination

In this article

What is the flu?

Influenza, or the flu, is a viral infection of your nose, throat and lungs. It can be a serious illness and kills around 500 New Zealanders a year.

It puts stress on your body and can increase:

  • your blood pressure
  • your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

A 2018 study found that the risk of heart attack was six times higher in the first seven days after getting the flu.

If you have a heart condition, the flu can make you very ill. Sometimes this can result in hospital visits or even death.

A flu vaccination is the best way to reduce your risk of catching the flu and of getting seriously ill.

Free flu vaccinations

In New Zealand, the flu vaccine is free for people aged 65 and older, or 55 and older if you’re Māori or Pacific.

It’s also free for anyone with diabetes, or most heart and lung conditions, including:

  • heart disease (including heart attack, angina or people who’ve had bypass surgery or stents)
  • heart failure
  • rheumatic heart disease
  • heart conditions you’re born with (congenital heart conditions)
  • conditions that affect the blood vessels and brain, like stroke (cerebrovascular conditions).

Pregnant women, and children under four years old with lung conditions like asthma, are also eligible. The flu vaccination is not given to children under 6 months of age.

For a full list of conditions that are covered, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

If you’re not eligible for a free flu vaccination, you can still pay to get one. Talk to your doctor or pharmacy about the cost and when you can get one.

Where to get a flu vaccine

You can get flu vaccinations from:

When to get vaccinated

You need a flu vaccination each year.

For the best protection, you need to get your flu jab before winter. In New Zealand, April and May are the ideal months to get vaccinated. It takes two weeks to develop full protection, so the sooner the better.

The vaccination is usually available at GPs and chemists from the beginning of April. Phone to make an appointment, if you’ve haven’t received a reminder from your doctor or healthcare provider.

Flu vaccination side effects

Most people don't suffer any side effects from the flu vaccination.

The most common reaction is pain and redness where you had the injection. 

Sometimes the vaccination causes headaches, muscle aches or fever. For most people this will only last a day or two but can last up to 72 hours.

Allergic reactions are very rare.

You will be asked to wait for about 20 minutes at the doctor or pharmacy after your vaccination to make sure you don't have a severe allergic reaction.

If you’ve had an allergic reaction to a vaccination before, tell your nurse or doctor before you get the injection.

Covid-19 vaccination and flu vaccination

Do you need both?

Yes. If you have a heart condition, it’s important to get a flu vaccination and a Covid-19 vaccination, so that you don’t get sick from either illness.

Which to get first?

You can get a Covid-19 vaccination or booster at the same time as your free flu vaccine. Getting both vaccinations at the same time does not increase your risk of side effects.

Read more about the Covid-19 vaccination

Getting the flu vaccination after having Covid-19

You can get a flu vaccination as soon as you’ve recovered from Covid-19. If you’re unsure whether you’ve fully recovered, talk to you doctor or nurse.

Heart medication and flu vaccines

The flu vaccination will not affect your heart medication.

Heart surgery and flu vaccination

If you’ve had heart surgery, it’s important for you to get the flu vaccination. This is because you’re more at risk of getting seriously ill if you get the flu.

If your surgery was recent, speak to your doctor about when you can get the vaccination.

When shouldn't I have a flu vaccination?

  • If you’ve got a temperature (fever) of 38˚C or higher, or you’re very unwell. (If you’ve just got a cold, with no temperature, you’re still ok to have a vaccination).
  • If you currently have Covid-19.

It is also important to talk to your health professional beforehand if you:

  • have had Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • have had an allergic reaction to a vaccination before
  • are having certain cancer treatments.

Get vaccinated yearly

You need to get your flu vaccination at the start of every winter, to make sure you’re protected for that year’s flu.