FRONT line medical staff have joined other workers and volunteers in the local health district for a shot in the arm before the Winter flu wave hits the Hunter.
May 1 is "V-Day" - or vaccine day - for doctors, nurses and other health professionals working within the Hunter New England Health District, with flu shots administered to hospital staff in a bid to protect both themselves, and patients.
It comes after an "unusual" Summer flu season in which there was more than 600 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza in the Hunter - almost triple the number from 2018.
"We've already had 632 laboratory confirmed cases of flu, and at the same time last year there had been 219, there were 250 in 2017, and 145 in 2016 - so it's a good three times higher," Hunter New England Health public health physician, Dr Dave Durrheim, said. "We really can't predict what will happen in the rest of the season.
"We would like to encourage people to not play Russian roulette, but rather make sure they are as best protected as possible by having a flu jab, particularly those in the highest risk groups. We need to get as many of the vulnerable folks protected, but then also provide a cocoon of protection around them by getting ourselves vaccinated."
Dr Durrheim said this time of year was the "pinnacle period" for people to get vaccinated against influenza. They expect between 2000 and 5000 flu-related deaths every flu season in Australia.
"In 2017 it was a colossal year for flu, with major impacts on health services," he said. "Last year we had a good response, with higher community vaccination rates than we have had for a very long time. We also had a good match between the vaccine and the circulating flu strains, and had a very mild flu season in 2018."
While the flu vaccine was not "perfect" - the likelihood of complications and or hospitalisations was reduced for those who received it.
"If it's well matched to the strain the level of protection can be as high as 70 or 80 per cent. If it's poorly matched, it could be as low as 30 or 40 per cent, and that's probably what we saw between 2017 and 2018," he said.
"But while the vaccine may not entirely prevent the infection or illness, it makes it a lot less severe."
Dr Durrheim said the flu vaccine was not a "live" vaccine - it could not give people the flu.
"However, if one gets a good immune response, one might have a couple of days of aches and pains," he said.
"Every now and then the timing of a person's jab might coincide with the current respiratory viruses circulating - like the common cold virus - so you might get a sniffle, but that's not flu.
"Influenza is a very dry cough, very painful sore throat, terrible muscle aches and headaches, and it's really incapacitating. One struggles to get out of bed.
"Who really wants to spend a week in bed in the middle of Winter?"