Your flu vaccine questions, answered

Why should my family get vaccinated for flu this season?

Last year’s flu season was one of the highest severity flu seasons on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This resulted in many people becoming ill and needing to be seen in emergency departments and urgent care clinics.

Sadly, 180 children also died from complications of the flu last year, the highest number since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Of these 180 children, 80 percent had not received a flu vaccine.

Getting a flu shot helps protect your family from getting sick from the flu, and it significantly reduces the risk of death and other complications. 

Should our flu vaccines be administered nasally or by injection? What’s the difference?

There are multiple forms of the flu vaccine. Certain specific types of flu vaccines are recommended for some individuals based on age, health conditions and allergies. While the nasal spray version of the flu vaccine is available again this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is concerned that these nasally administered vaccines might not be as effective in children as the injectable flu vaccine is. For this reason, we are encouraging all of our pediatric patients to get the injectable flu vaccine this year. That said, a child receiving a spray vaccine like FluMist is still better protected than a child who has received no vaccine at all.

Everyone 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated against the flu this year. Talk to your clinic’s team about getting the best vaccine for you and your family!

Can you “catch” the flu from the flu vaccine?

The short answer is no, you can’t. These vaccines are designed to help the body create an immune response, but not to allow the virus to replicate in the body and cause a full-blown flu infection.

Because the immune system does respond to the vaccine, some people will experience symptoms like pain or redness at the injection site, muscle aches and even fever. These reactions are much less severe than the symptoms of catching the flu and are much shorter lived. Someone who is very healthy will still experience significant symptoms for 7-10 days if they catch the flu.

In short, you may not feel 100 percent after getting the flu vaccine, but it’s much better than actually catching the flu.

How can I protect my young infant from the flu?

Infants who are younger than 6 months old cannot receive a flu vaccine. The best way to protect them from the flu is to ensure that all the other adults and children around them are vaccinated. We call this “cocooning.”

Did you know we offer free flu vaccines for OHSU Doernbecher parents and caregivers? Learn more about the “Vaccines for Parents” program.

Regularly washing your hands and avoiding contact with those who are sick with fever, coughing, sore throat or congestion can also help. Your infant’s care provider is happy to support you if you think your infant is sick or was exposed to the flu. 

Is it too early to get a flu vaccine now?

Although the immunity created by the virus does wane over time, it is important to get vaccinated before the flu season starts, which is usually in November. The CDC recommends everyone be vaccinated by the end of October, so come in today!

Infants and young children may need two doses of the vaccine four weeks apart this year to have full immunity, so it is very important for them to begin their vaccine series for the flu as soon as possible.


Eliza Hayes Bakken, M.D.
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Medical Director, Pediatric and Adolescent Clinic
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital