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Influenza (flu) vaccine

Date last reviewed: 
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The 2023-24 influenza (flu) season is over.

This page will be updated with information for the 2024-25 influenza season in August.

Recommended for everyone 6 months and older to protect against influenza viruses.

What is the influenza vaccine?

Influenza vaccines protect against influenza (often called “flu”), a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. Influenza can cause mild to severe illness and, at times, can lead to death. A person with influenza is at risk of other infections, including pneumonia, which is a serious infection of the lungs.
Immunization is the best way to protect against influenza. When you or your child get immunized, you help protect others as well by reducing the spread of the influenza virus.

Everyone 6 months and older can get an influenza vaccine 

Everyone 6 months of age and older can get an influenza vaccine (often called the “flu shot”) every year. The vaccine is free and helps protect against influenza viruses.
Vaccination is especially important for the following groups:
People at high risk of serious illness from influenza
People at high risk of serious illness from influenza, include:
  • Children 6 months to less than 5 years of age
  • Pregnant people at any stage of pregnancy during the influenza season (typically spanning Nov-Apr)
  • Seniors 65 years and older
  • Residents of any age living in residential care, assisted living or other group facilities
  • Indigenous people
  • Children and teenagers required to take Aspirin® or ASA for long periods of time due to a medical condition
  • Children and adults who are very obese
  • Children and adults with certain medical conditions, including:
    • Heart or lung disorders that require regular medical care, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or cystic fibrosis
    • Kidney disease, chronic liver disease such as hepatitis, diabetes, cancer, anemia or weakened immune system
    • Those with health conditions causing difficulty breathing, swallowing or a risk of choking on food or fluids, such as people with severe brain damage, spinal cord injury, seizures or neuromuscular disorders
People who may be in close physical contact with those at high risk
People who may be in close physical contact with those at high risk of serious illness from influenza include: 
  • Household contacts (including children) of people at high risk
  • Household contacts, caregivers and daycare staff of children under 5 years of age
  • Doctors, nurses and others working in health care settings, including long-term care facilities, who have contact with patients
  • Visitors to health care facilities and other patient care locations
  • Inmates of provincial correctional institutions
  • Those who provide care or service to people at high risk in potential outbreak settings such as cruise ships
Other groups
Other groups who the vaccine is specifically recommended for include:
  • People who provide essential community services, including police officers, firefighters, ambulance attendants, and corrections workers
  • People working with live poultry

How to book an appointment

The best way to get an influenza vaccine is to book an appointment. If you are already registered with the provincial Get Vaccinated system, you will automatically receive an invitation to book your influenza vaccine online when it's time to book your appointment. If you are not yet registered with the Get Vaccinated system, please register.
Although booking through the Get Vaccinated system is the most efficient way to access the vaccines, people can also phone the provincial call centre toll-free at 1 833 838-2323 to book their influenza vaccine. 
People living in First Nations communities can contact their community health centre or nursing station to find out how to book an influenza vaccine appointment.

When can I book my appointment?

Influenza vaccines will start to arrive in BC in early October. Priority populations will be invited to book vaccine appointments first; this includes people most at risk of severe illness and complications, such as seniors 65 and older, residents in long-term care facilities, Indigenous peoples, pregnant people and those with chronic health conditions (e.g., cancer, HIV, hepatitis C, diabetes), as well as health-care workers.
Invitations for appointments for everyone else will begin on October 10, 2023, and will continue through October. People can receive influenza and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time if they wish.

How the vaccine is given

The influenza vaccine is usually given as 1 dose. Most influenza vaccines are given by injection (needle), but there also is a nasal spray influenza vaccine. In BC, influenza vaccines are usually available in October. For best protection, get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Children under 9 years of age who have never had an influenza vaccine need 2 doses, 4 weeks apart. The second dose of vaccine is important to give these children the strongest possible protection to last through the influenza season.

Influenza vaccines available in BC

There are two main types of influenza vaccines, the inactivated influenza vaccine that is given by injection, and the live attenuated influenza vaccine that is given as a nasal spray. The vaccines protect against either 3 strains of influenza (called trivalent vaccines) or 4 strains of influenza (called quadrivalent vaccines).
Influenza vaccines available in BC for the 2023-2024 influenza season:
  • FLUAD® Trivalent (inactivated).
  • FLUZONE® QUADRIVALENT (inactivated).
  • FLULAVAL® TETRA Quadrivalent (inactivated) 
  • FLUMIST® QUADRIVALENT (live attenuated).
The vaccine you receive will be based on your age, risk factors, and availability, but will be guided by the recommendations below. The best vaccine to get is the one you are being offered. 

Vaccines recommended for adults 65 years of age and older

Adults 65 years of age and older are at increased risk for severe illness, hospitalization, and death from influenza compared with younger populations. For the 2023-2024 influenza season, there are two enhanced influenza vaccines that are recommended for adults 65 years of age and older: 
  • FLUAD® Trivalent adjuvanted (inactivated).
Studies suggest that, in this age group, these two enhanced vaccines are potentially more effective than the standard dose unadjuvanted influenza vaccines.  
The FLUZONE® HIGH-DOSE QUADRIVALENT vaccine is free for adults 65 years of age and older living in long-term care, assisted living facilities, and First Nations communities. This vaccine contains a higher dose of antigen to help create a stronger immune response. 
The FLUAD® vaccine is free for all other adults 65 years of age and older. This vaccine is a trivalent influenza vaccine and contains an adjuvant that helps create a stronger immune response.
Either of these enhanced influenza vaccines is recommended for this age group. There is not enough evidence to show that one of these enhanced vaccines is better than the other.

Vaccines recommended for people 6 months to 64 years of age

Children 6-23 months of age will be given:

  • FLULAVAL® TETRA Quadrivalent.

Children and teens 2-17 years of age will be given:

  • FLUMIST® QUADRIVALENT (given as a nasal spray), or
  • FLULAVAL® TETRA Quadrivalent.
The FLUMIST® QUADRIVALENT vaccine is a live attenuated influenza vaccine given as an intranasal spray into both nostrils. This vaccine is a good option for children 2 years of age and older, especially those with needle fear and anxiety. In children, FLUMIST® provides similar protection against influenza as the inactivated influenza vaccines.

People 18-64 years of age will be given:

  • FLULAVAL® TETRA Quadrivalent.

Adults 18-59 years of age with an intense fear of needles who are unwilling to get an influenza vaccine by injection may get the FLUMIST® QUADRIVALENT vaccine, given as a nasal spray. FLUMIST® QUADRIVALENT is a live attenuated influenza vaccine. However, it's important to note that the inactivated influenza vaccine is recommended for adults because it provides better protection against influenza infection than the live vaccine in this age group. Read who should not get the live attenuated influenza vaccine

Influenza can cause serious illness in children

Younger children are at higher risk from respiratory illnesses like influenza. To prevent serious illness, get your child immunized every year.
It's safe for your child to get their influenza vaccine at the same time as other vaccines.
You have many options to get a flu vaccine for your child:
  • Book an appointment at a health authority clinic or pharmacy:
    • Online using the Get Vaccinated booking link you received for your child by email or text message (re-send your booking link).
    • Call 1-833-838-2323. 7 days a week, 7 am to 7 pm. Statutory holidays 9 am to 5 pm. We'll help you get the next available appointment.
  • Book an appointment with your primary health care provider if they offer flu shots.

You need an influenza vaccine every year

It's important that you get an influenza vaccine every year.
  • Influenza viruses change (mutate) from year to year, so each year, the viruses used to make the vaccine change to protect you against the viruses circulating that year.
  • Protection from the influenza vaccine can wear off with time, so you need a new one every year to stay protected.

Virus strains the 2023-2024 vaccines protect against

Because influenza viruses often change (mutate), the specific virus strains in the vaccine are reviewed each year by the World Health Organization (WHO) and updated as needed so that there is the greatest probability of matching the virus strains that are circulating in the community. The 2023-2024 influenza vaccines contain the following strains:
  • A/Victoria/4897/2022 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus (new this year)
  • A/Darwin/9/2021 (H3N2)-like virus.
  • B/Austria/1359417/2021-like virus.
  • B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (in quadrivalent vaccines only) .

Influenza vaccine safety and side effects

Influenza vaccines are safe. It is much safer to get the vaccine than to get influenza.
Many people have no side effects from influenza vaccines. For those that do, side effects are usually mild and go away on their own within a few days.  Serious side effects, like a severe allergic reaction, are very rare. 
For information on possible side effects after the inactivated influenza vaccine, see the HealthLinkBC File: Inactivated Influenza (Flu) Vaccine.
For information on possible side effects after the live attenuated influenza vaccine, see the HealthLinkBC File: Live Attenuated Influenza (Flu) Vaccine.

Immunization aftercare

For information on how to manage side effects, view the immunization aftercare sheets below.

Influenza (flu) quick facts

What it is
Influenza is an infection of the respiratory system caused by the influenza virus.
How it spreads
Influenza spreads easily from person to person through coughing, sneezing or having face-to-face contact. The virus can also spread when you touch tiny droplets from a cough or sneeze on another person or object and then touch your eyes, mouth or nose before washing your hands.
​​Influenza symptoms vary from mild to severe, and can include:
  • Fever,
  • Headache,
  • Muscle pain,
  • Runny nose,
  • Sore throat,
  • Extreme tiredness,
  • A cough.
Children may also experience nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Although infections from other viruses may have similar symptoms, those due to the influenza virus tend to be worse with a greater risk of complications.
Symptoms can begin about 1 to 4 days, an average of 2 days after a person is first exposed to the influenza virus. Fever and other symptoms can usually last up to 7 to 10 days, but the cough and weakness may last 1 to 2 weeks longer.
Getting sick with influenza also puts you at risk of other infections. These include viral or bacterial pneumonia, which affects the lungs. The risk of complications can be life-threatening. Seniors 65 years and older, infants and very young children, people who have lung or heart diseases, certain chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems are at much greater risk.
Healthy pregnant women in the second half of their pregnancy are at much greater risk of hospitalization following infection with influenza virus.
In Canada, thousands of people are hospitalized and may die from influenza and its complications during years with widespread or epidemic influenza activity.