Nasal spray flu vaccine doesn’t work, experts say

June 24, 2016 Providence Health Team

Your next flu vaccine should come from a syringe, not a nasal spray bottle, according to experts advising the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They said they found no evidence that the nasal spray marketed as FluMist was effective last year, this following two previous seasons where the spray showed poor or lower-than-expected effectiveness.

In a statement, the CDC advisers said the nasal spray “should not be used during the 2016-2017 flu season.”

Providence Health & Services has adopted the CDC guidelines. “It seems pretty clear,” said Sunita Mishra, M.D., Providence’s medical director of innovation. “The efficacy for FluMist seems pretty low."

AstraZeneca, which owns the FluMist, disputes the CDC’s conclusion, but said it is working with the agency to ensure the drug can be used again in future flu seasons.

Concerns about the vaccine supply

The CDC continues to recommend annual flu vaccinations for everyone ages 6 months old and older.

But the CDC experts acknowledge their recommendation could affect the availability of vaccines, especially among health care providers who have already placed orders for the coming flu season. Pediatricians and others who provide vaccines for children could be hardest hit because data from recent flu seasons suggest that nasal spray accounts for about one-third of all flu vaccines given to children, the CDC said.

The agency said it “will be working with manufacturers throughout the summer to ensure there is enough vaccine supply to meet the demand.”

Flu season in the United States generally runs from October through May. How well a vaccine works can vary widely from year to year, and the CDC said it didn’t know why the nasal spray hadn’t worked well.

Shifting views about nasal spray

During the 2014-2015 flu season, the CDC advised health care providers and parents of young children to get the nasal spray vaccine. During 2015-2016, the agency expressed no preference for which type of vaccine children should get.

The nasal spray vaccine, unlike those delivered as a shot, uses a live but weakened form of the flu virus. Technically, it is known as live attenuated influenza vaccine, or LAIV.

A vaccine’s effectiveness can vary depending on the person getting the vaccination and the type of virus that’s circulating, but the CDC says a vaccine can reduce the risk of infection by 50 percent to 60 percent among the overall population.

You can read more about the decision by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices here.

The importance of flu vaccinations

Influenza is a contagious illness caused by one or more strains of a flu virus. It can be fatal, especially to people who are young, old or suffering from health conditions such as asthma. In recent years, seasonal flu has killed from 3,000 to 49,000 U.S. residents.

Sometimes the spread of the influenza virus becomes a pandemic. This was the case when the 1918 outbreak of the Spanish Flu killed from 50 million to 100 million people around the world and depressed the average lifespan of Americans by 10 years.

Signs of the flu may include:

  • Fever, whether evidenced by chills or feeling feverish
  • Cough
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat

The virus can be spread from one person to another up to about six feet away, according to the CDC. It is most often spread by droplets sneezed, coughed or otherwise expressed into the air. Less often, it can be spread by touching a surface holding the virus and then touching your mouth or nose.

Talk to your health care provider about getting a vaccination for the coming flu season. You can find a Providence provider here.

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