Where’s The Nasal-Spray Flu Vaccine This Year?

November 14, 2016

Something’s missing this flu season for the first time in 13 years.  Sorry, kids, the nasal flu vaccine spray, like “Bella and the Bulldogs” on Nickelodeon, won’t be back this year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has prohibited the spray, best known by the brand name FluMist, because in recent years it proved increasingly ineffective in protecting against potentially dangerous influenza virus. Actually, it was worse than ineffective last year: Federal health officials say it was useless.

Needle-free advocates could have seen this coming. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which reports its findings to the CDC, announced the day summer started that FluMist no longer work and recommended everyone — children and needle-fearing adults — now get a flu shot. There’s no alternative.

“The mainstay of flu prevention remains vaccination,” says Dr. Jack Ross, chief of infectious disease at Hartford Hospital.

When the Food and Drug Administration licensed FluMist in 2001, it only approved its use for people ages 5 to 49. After subsequent clinical trials, the FDA expanded FluMist use to children 2 to 5. Like vaccines for chicken pox and measles, FluMist used a live virus. The nasal-spray vaccine did not cause the flu, but some recipients reported flu-like symptoms such as a sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, cough, muscle aches, low fever and vomiting.

About a third of all children vaccinated for flu received FluMist. Last year, about 20 million people received the nasal spray — 14 percent of the estimated 144.5 million people vaccinated for flu — according to the CDC. But the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices determined the nasal spray was effective only 3 percent of the time among the 2-to-17 age group during the 2015-16 flu season.

The flu shot’s effectiveness also varies, depending on the flu strain. But the nasal spray was no match for last year’s predominant strain, H1N1 — which affects children most adversely — effectively ending its run as the go-to, needle-free flu vaccination.