Flu season is in full force in Oregon, resulting so far in hundreds of hospitalizations and the deaths of two children. There’s likely several months to go before this year’s flu season is over, so anyone 6 months or older who has not yet received a flu shot is encouraged to get one as soon as possible.

Flu shots save lives
When the Centers for Disease Control studied data from four flu seasons between 2010 and 2014, it found that approximately 75 percent of the children who died during that time did not receive a flu shot.

“The point of the flu vaccine is to not only prevent flu illness, but to prevent flu deaths,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw.

In her 25 years as a pediatrician, Dr. Bradshaw has seen the flu take its toll on children and adults. She says flu shots are critically important and she helps families separate fact from fiction when it comes to the vaccine and the virus.

“Influenza isn’t just, ‘Oh, I had the flu this weekend.’ Oh no. When you have influenza, you are sick in bed with a high fever for a week or more, terrible body aches, chills, congestion, coughing and sore throat. It’s a terrible illness.”

Common misconceptions regarding the flu include:
Myth: You can catch the flu from the vaccine.
Fact: That’s not true. The flu vaccine is made from an inactivated virus that cannot transmit infection.

Myth: I don’t need a flu vaccine every year.
Fact: Yes, you do. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine for just about everyone 6 months or older, even when the viruses the vaccine protects against have not changed from the previous season. A person’s immunity from vaccination declines over time, so an annual flu shot is needed.

Myth: If you get the flu, the shot didn’t work.
Fact: That’s not entirely accurate. It’s difficult for scientists to perfectly predict which strains of influenza will be dominant each year. But if you do get the flu, having had the shot can lessen the severity of the symptoms.

“Is it possible you could get a case of influenza the year you got a flu shot? Yes. Is it likely that if you hadn’t received the shot that you would have been sicker? Yes,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

Protect your family and the community
While the flu vaccine doesn’t offer 100 percent protection, Dr. Bradshaw says it’s the best tool we have against a potentially deadly virus.

“Influenza is not a benign illness. People sort of blow it off, but influenza kills more people every year in the U.S. than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. It’s a big deal.”

It’s not too late to get a flu shot. See your health care provider or the public health department, or visit your local pharmacy, but don’t wait. It takes two weeks for the vaccine to become effective.