Patients and carers

Prevention is your best protection

Winter can be a dangerous time for someone who has a lung disease or lung cancer as the risk of contracting life-threatening viruses, like influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia increases significantly. After more than a year of social distancing and isolation, it’s more important than ever to ensure you take steps to protect yourself against vaccine preventable diseases this winter. Download our Vaccination Tracker and talk to your doctor about getting immunised again influenza and COVID-19, and ensure your pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination is up to date.

Download the Vaccination Tracker long-arrow-right

COVID-19 Vaccination Information

In May 2021, Prof. Peter Wark (Senior Staff Specialist: Respiratory & Sleep) joined us for a webinar to discuss the COVID-19 vaccinations and topics including:
- How the vaccines work
- Why we need two doses of the vaccine
- The approval process for COVID-19 vaccinations
- Differences between available vaccines
- Possible side effects
- Should individuals with lung disease and/or lung cancer get the vaccine?
Please note: the information in this resource was current at the time of release. As this is an evolving situation please check information from your treating doctor for advice on the COVID-19 vaccine.

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What is influenza (flu)?

While the common cold is often called ‘the flu’, influenza is a much more severe illness and for some, even fatal. The virus spreads from person-to-person by tiny drops produced during a cough or sneeze. For people living with an existing condition such as a lung disease, the flu can be particularly dangerous. The annual flu vaccine is the best protection to help prevent severe symptoms and keep you well this winter. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Sore throat 
  • Fever and chills 
  • Headache, muscle aches and joint pain 
  • Dry, chesty cough 
  • Nasal congestion and runny nose 
  • Fatigue 
  • Sneezing 
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea. 
  • Am I at greater risk of getting the flu if I have a lung disease?

    The flu can affect people of all ages, however those at highest risk of being hospitalised with the flu include people with long-term medical conditions, those who have weakened immune systems and people aged over 65 years.

  • Am I eligible for a free vaccine if I have a lung disease?

    Under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), people aged over 6 months with chronic respiratory conditions including bronchiectasis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), severe asthma and chronic emphysema, are eligible for a free flu vaccination. There are a number of other factors that may make you eligible for a free vaccine including age, pregnancy and whether you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

    If you are not eligible for a free vaccine, you can still receive it by paying for it. The cost depends on the type of vaccine, the formula and where you buy it from. Your immunisation provider, such as your doctor or pharmacist, can give you more information.

  • When should I get a flu vaccine?

    Optimal protection against the flu happens within the first three to four months after vaccination so it should be timed to achieve the highest level of protection during peak flu season, which is usually between June to September in most parts of Australia.

    Vaccinating from April provides protection before peak flu season. Revaccination later in the same season for individuals who have already received vaccination is not routinely recommended, but may benefit some individuals due to personal circumstances, such as travel or pregnancy. Discuss your individual circumstances with your doctor.

  • What type of flu vaccine will I get?

    There are seven types of flu vaccines registered and available for use in Australia in 2021. It is important to get the right vaccine for your age. Your immunisation provider can tell you which vaccine they will use for you, according to the Australian Immunisation Handbook and the NIP.

  • Will I get the flu from the vaccine?

    All flu vaccines used in Australia are ‘inactivated’, which means they don’t contain the live flu virus, so you can't catch the flu from the vaccine. Some people experience flu-like symptoms such as slight fever or pain at the injection site. They are usually mild and short-lived and are a sign the vaccine is triggering an immune response, which is what it’s designed to do. These reactions do not require special treatment or reporting. If you have concerns about a reaction that appears to be getting worse or does not fit the common reactions for that vaccine, seek medical attention.

  • Why do I need the flu vaccine every year?

    Flu viruses are constantly changing, so the vaccine composition is reviewed each year and updated as needed based on which flu viruses are making people sick, the extent to which those viruses are spreading, and how well the previous season's vaccine protects against those viruses.

  • Can I get the flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine on the same day?

    The recommended minimum interval between receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and an inactivated flu vaccine is 14 days. Arrange to get your annual flu vaccine as soon as it’s available so you can receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to you. If you’re currently eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and haven’t received your flu vaccine, talk to your doctor about the timing and scheduling of receiving both this year.

Pneumococcal pneumonia

Pneumonia is a common and potentially fatal lung infection that can be caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi. One of the most severe forms of pneumonia is pneumococcal pneumonia, which is caused by the bacterium, Streptococcus pneumoniae. This bacterium is responsible for approximately 1.6 million deaths each year world-wide. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Cough 
  • Fever 
  • Fatigue 
  • Chest pain. 
  • Am I more likely to get pneumonia if I have a lung disease?

    People with a lung condition, including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), severe asthma, bronchiectasis and Interstitial Lung Disease, are at increased of pneumococcal pneumonia as these conditions leave your respiratory system more susceptible to infections. If you contract the virus, you may experience more severe symptoms and are at higher risk for hospitalisation. It can also take you longer to recover and you are more likely to develop serious complications from the infection.

  • Should I get a pneumonia vaccine because I have a lung disease?

    It’s recommended that you be vaccinated against pneumonia as you’re at an increased risk of developing pneumococcal disease. This is because infections are more common when the lungs are more susceptible to infection. You may experience more severe symptoms and are at higher risk for hospitalisation. It can also take you longer to recover and you are more likely to develop serious complications from the infection.

    Whether you’re newly diagnosed and regardless of the age you are at time of diagnosis, or you have been living with lung disease for some time, if you haven’t been vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia, speak to your doctor. If you have been vaccinated, ask your doctor to check if your pneumonia vaccination is up to date and discuss with them if it is recommended you receive any further doses.

    The type of vaccine used, and the dosage schedule will depend on a number of factors including age and medical history. Your doctor can tell you which vaccine they will use for your pneumococcal vaccination.

  • Do I need the pneumonia vaccine every year?

    This vaccine is not given annually like the flu vaccine. For most people one or two doses during adulthood should be enough to protect you for your entire life. In Australia, it is recommended that people with an underlying chronic disease be revaccinated a minimum of 5 years following their first dose. If you’ve been vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia before, speak to your doctor about when you require another dose.

  • Am I eligible for a free pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine if I have a lung disease?

    If you’re under 70 years of age and living with a chronic lung disease you may be eligible to receive a free vaccine under the National Immunisation Program (NIP).

    Chronic respiratory conditions funded under the NIP include:
    - Suppurative lung disease, bronchiectasis and cystic fibrosis
    - chronic lung disease in preterm infants.

    If you have a lung disease identified as putting you at-risk, but you are not eligible for a funded vaccine under the NIP, it's still important to discuss with your doctor when you should be receiving the vaccine and options for you. If you are not eligible for a free vaccine, you can still get the vaccine, but you may need to pay for it. The cost depends on the type of vaccine, the formula and where you buy it from. Your immunisation provider can give you more information.

  • Can I get the pneumonia vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine on the same day?

    A minimum interval of 14 days between the COVID-19 vaccine and any other vaccine is recommended. Ask your doctor about the recommended timing and intervals required and how to space your vaccinations this year so you are protected against influenza, pneumococcal pneumonia and COVID-19.

    Pneumococcal vaccines protect against disease such as pneumonia caused specifically by the bacterium pneumococcus. Pneumococcal vaccines will not provide protection against COVID-19 and there is currently no evidence to suggest that pneumococcal vaccines provide protection against COVID-19 associated pneumonia.

COVID-19

Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is free and voluntary and will become available to everyone in Australia. While the rollout of phase 1B is underwaywhich includes adults with medical conditions including chronic lung disease, it may take some time for vaccine supply levels to increase across the country. GP clinics are already experiencing high volumes of enquiries and are encouraging people to be patient. As more locally produced vaccines become available, appointment availability will increase. The Government Eligibility Checker allows you to find locations near you that are administering the vaccine and provides advice on how to book at each location. 

The recommended minimum gap between the COVID-19 vaccine and any other vaccine is 14 days so if you’re waiting to receive yours, it’s a great time to speak to your GP about preparing yourself for flu season and ensuring you’re protected against pneumococcal pneumonia. 

If you have more questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and when you will be eligible, visit our COVID-19 information hub here. 

Reduce the spread

There are simple steps we can all take to reduce the spread of nasty bugs and viruses such as the flu, COVID-19 and even the common cold. Many of these practices have become second nature during the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing them as part of our day-to-day lives will help keep the community safe. 

  • Keep your distance: If you’re experiencing any cold or flu like symptoms it’s important to get a COVID-19 test and isolate until you receive a negative result. Even if you do test negative, if we all keep our distance when we’re feeling unwell, it can reduce the chance of spreading any virus or infection to our family, friends, colleagues and the broader community. 
  • Hand hygiene: Wash your hands oftenand thoroughlywith soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser gel. If you’re out and about, avoid touching things in public spaces as much as possible and always wash your hands or use sanitiser after. 
  • Face masks: Wearing a mask if you’re experiencing any cold or flu like symptoms can help to reduce the spread of nasty bugs and viruses – particularly in situations where you can’t social distance such as public transport and busy shopping centres. 
  • Cleaning advice: Wipe down frequently touched surfaces regularly and any items brought into your home. Using detergent and water, followed by a disinfectant is the most effective way to reduce the spread of viruses. Read more cleaning tips, here. 

Staying well this winter

Follow your action plan

If you have a chronic lung condition, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or bronchiectasis, winter can mean a greater chance of experiencing an exacerbation or flare-up which, left untreated, can lead to hospitalisation. When completed with your treating health professional, an action plan helps you to understand ‘baseline’ or day-to-day symptoms and what action to take if you experience any change. Download a COPD or a Bronchiectasis Action Plan by following the link below.

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Keep your body moving

Exercise is highly beneficial for people living with a lung disease. In fact, it is widely recognised that one of the best things you can do for yourself is regularly exercise to help maintain your fitness, improve your wellbeing and reduce symptoms such as breathlessness. Find out more about exercising with a lung condition and how you can connect with an exercise program by following the link below.

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Connect to care

Lung Foundation Australia’s Information and Support Centre team are available to provide guidance and practical tips. We can connect you with resources, services and programs to support you to live your best life. You can reach our team during business hours via free call 1800 654 301 or emailing enquiries@lungfoundation.com.au.

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