A Center for Disease Control Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted in June to discontinue recommending the nasal spray flu vaccine during the 2016-17 flu season.
According to a study using statistics from the U.S. Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Network, only 3 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 17 using the nasal spray, known by the brand name of FluMist, showed beneficial effects of the spray.
“The 3 percent estimate means no protective benefit could be measured,” according to the CDC report.
The same study showed the influenza shots were 63 percent effective. Other non-CDC studies also found the nasal spray was considerably less effective in preventing the flu than the shot, according to the report.
The American Academy of Pediatrics agreed with the CDC and issued its support of the decision.
“We agree with (the CDC’s) decision today to recommend health care providers and parents use only the inactivated vaccine for this influenza season,” said AAP President Benard Dreyer on June 22.
The CDC projects 171 million to 176 million doses of flu vaccine will be available in the United States, with the makers of FluMist projecting a supply of 14 million doses. CDC data from recent seasons showed nasal spray flu vaccines account for one-third of all flu vaccines given to children.
Jamie Swift, Mountain States Health Alliance corporate director of infection prevention, said she does not believe the recommendation will change the number of children who get vaccinated for the upcoming season.
“Before the nasal spray was available, children were routinely vaccinated with the actual shot,” Swift said. “So I think pediatricians are well aware of the change and will be able to communicate that with their patients.”
Flu seasons vary from season to season and differ in different parts of the country. Most flu activity begins between October and May and peaks in the United States between December and February.
FluMist is the leading brand of nasal flu vaccines, produced by MedImmune, a subsidiary of London-based AstraZeneca PLC.
Soon after the nasal spray was licensed in 2003, data showed that it was just as effective, or more effective, than taking a flu shot. The CDC does not know the reason for the nasal spray’s ineffectiveness demonstrated this year.
However, the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) of the European Medicines Agency issued a positive opinion on the nasal spray’s recommendation for children older than 12 months old and under 18 years old. The CHMP’s opinion will now be presented to the European Commission, which will make the ultimate decision on whether to begin marketing to 28 European Union counties.
Since FluMist is still a licensed vaccine, it could still be available in some areas.
“It would be available for order, (but) I don’t know if providers will order it since it’s not recommended this year,” Swift said.
AstraZeneca said it does plan to make a limited supply available in the United States to fill some health provider requests.
FluMist utilizes a live, weakened virus to stimulate the immune system where the flu virus enters the body in the lining of the nose and throat. In comparison, the flu shot is an inactivate influenza vaccine that causes antibodies to develop in the body two weeks after vaccination.
Dr. Demetrio Macariola Jr., a pediatrics and infectious disease professor at East Tennessee State University, said getting the flu shot is the only way he knows to battle influenza.
“People need to know that it takes two weeks for the (flu shot) vaccine to become effective so the sooner people get (the shot), the better,” Macariola said. “The flu virus needs to be taken seriously.”
For children afraid of needles, Macariola recommended parents remain calm and explain to children there is no other choice.
The Tri-Cities’ 2016 flu season peaked around March and April, which was abnormally late for this region. In 2015, the flu season peaked in December.
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