I didn't get the flu shot. Does that make me an anti-vaxxer?

There are anti-vaxxers. And then there's choosing not to the get flu shot. It's hardly the same thing, right?

Like many Australians, I've happily ignored the offer of a free dose of the influenza vaccine at work.

My reasoning: I don't get the flu (touch wood) and if I were to be struck down by illness, I wouldn't be hurting anyone but myself.

But with the nation in the grip of a particularly nasty flu epidemic, I've wondered, is it time for us to change our cavalier attitude to the flu shot?

Perhaps getting the influenza vaccine is no longer a personal choice but, at some point, has turned into a moral issue. And I've become an accidental anti-vaxxer.

In search of answers, my first port of call is official sources.

There is simple advice from the Australian department of health, which says the flu vaccine is recommended for everyone from six months of age.

There have been repeated calls by experts for all Australians to be vaccinated, most recently following a spate of deaths in nursing homes in Victoria and Tasmania, then after a young Victorian father died due to complications associated with influenza. He was just 30, the same age as me.

Yet when Australian Medical Association president Michael Gannon dubbed "lazy" those people who forgot or chose to forgo the flu shot this year, he was referring to about 60 per cent of the population (according to finder.com.au data).

Many of them I imagine are not active vaccine resisters, but are healthy or young, and genuinely thought their personal decision would do no harm to others.

There is also an important distinction that can be made between the influenza vaccine and vital childhood vaccines (something that I would never avoid for myself or any of my family members).

While there are rumblings that this could change in the future, the influenza vaccine is still is not free for all.

It is available for free through the National Immunisation Program for only certain groups who are at high risk from influenza and its complications, including pregnant women, people aged over 65 and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders of particular ages.

I asked Professor Kanta Subbarao, director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, if she thought getting the flu vaccine could still be considered a personal choice.

She said yes, but also that it was a decision people should make after considering those around them.

Professor Subbarao noted babies under six months could not receive the flu shot, so parents and caregivers should be aware they could infect their infants.

Each year influenza and pneumonia claim the lives of more than 3000 people in Australia (influenza and pneumonia are ranked 12th by the Bureau of Statistics for things that can kill you).

Interestingly, the average age of death in this group is almost 89 years, which makes me think about my 93-year-old grandma. I intend to visit her in a week (her 94th birthday bash), and would like to have her around for many more years yet.

When I asked people at work about their flu vaccine choice, people tended to fall in two camps.

The first, like me, thought of themselves as having superior immune systems. The second had either had the flu in the past, or seen it up close.

"I thought I was going to die," recalled one coworker.

Perhaps the flu shot is one of those things that many people don't realise they need until it's too late.

When I called Australian Medical Association vice-president Dr Tony Bartone, he could only spare a few minutes, as the Melbourne GP was neck deep in flu cases. For him, the choice is simple.

"[The flu shot] is the only objective way to be able to protect yourself against influenza. We know that especially for vulnerable members of the population ??? they are at risk of serious complications, including hospitalisation and also death," Dr Bartone said.

"It's about doing the right thing by yourself and also elderly and young members of your family."

It's not too late to get the flu shot this year.

This story I didn't get the flu shot. Does that make me an anti-vaxxer? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.