Winter is coming: Should you get a flu vaccine?

Health-care professionals recommend getting a flu vaccine to prevent severe illness and virus spread. Picture: Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers

Health-care professionals recommend getting a flu vaccine to prevent severe illness and virus spread. Picture: Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 9, 2024


As the flu season approaches, health-care professionals advise getting a flu vaccine is the best way to safeguard against severe symptoms and spreading the virus.

“There are different forms of flu caused by various virus strains, and each year the influenza virus mutates. A new vaccine is developed and needed every year for us to remain protected,” said Dr Cathelijn Zeijlemaker, a family physician and medical director of Netcare’s Primary Care division.

Understanding Influenza:

The World Health Organization defines seasonal influenza, or the flu, as a respiratory infection caused by viruses, which can spread easily through coughing or sneezing. While most cases resolve without treatment, vaccination remains a powerful preventive measure.

Symptoms of influenza commonly include body aches, fever, nasal congestion, tiredness and coughing and stop you from continuing with your normal daily activities. Children tend to have the highest rates of seasonal flu infection, which can lead to wider transmission within communities.


Experts explain that flu vaccines are the best way to protect yourself, and others, from the flu. Getting vaccinated significantly reduces a person’s risk of becoming sick with the flu and experiencing possible severe symptoms and complications such as secondary bacterial infections requiring antibiotics. It also prevents the spread of the virus thereby preventing others from contracting flu.

Flu vaccines are tailored each year to combat the strains predicted to be most prevalent during the upcoming flu season. By receiving the vaccine, individuals not only reduce their risk of falling ill but also mitigate the severity and duration of flu symptoms if infection occurs.

“Each year in September, the WHO’s technical consultants advise which strains of the influenza virus should be included in the next year’s flu vaccine for the Southern Hemisphere to ensure that the protection provided is up to date,” said Zeijlemake.

Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA) CEO Jackie Maimin adds: “This year there are two slightly different flu vaccines available.

“There is a quadrivalent vaccine, which is designed to protect against four different flu viruses: including two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses, and the trivalent vaccine, which protects against three different flu viruses: the two most common A strains and one B strain.

“For the 2024 flu season, the World Health Organization has stated that the trivalent vaccine will be sufficient to guard against this year’s flu strains and it is not necessary to have the fourth B strain as that strain has not been in circulation for the last few years. There is no harm in getting the quadrivalent version, however, it does cost more.”

Understanding Side Effects:

According to Zeijlemaker, it is not uncommon for the influenza vaccine to give mild side effects, like redness, mild swelling, and pain over the injection site, or a mild fever, mild rash, headache, or body aches. These begin soon after vaccination and are usually mild and short-lived. As with other medications, there is always a small chance of a severe allergic reaction.

“Make sure you tell your doctor about your recent medical history before your vaccination, or if you are feeling unwell, as you may be advised to postpone the vaccination,” she said.


Zeijlemaker urges early vaccination, as it takes approximately two weeks for immunity to develop fully. While flu outbreaks typically coincide with colder weather, their onset remains unpredictable.

Cape Times