Breaking News: CDC Now Advises Parents to Avoid Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine

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Their recommendation stems from preliminary CDC data suggesting that FluMist Quadrivalent—the brand name for LAIV—was only effective three percent of the time in 2 to 17 year olds during the 2015-2016 flu season.


A flu vaccine popular with pediatricians and the many kids who hate getting shots might lose its recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) this fall. An advisory committee of immunization experts for the CDC voted June 22 to advise parents and doctors against the use of live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), or the nasal spray vaccine, in the upcoming flu season. Their recommendation stems from preliminary CDC data suggesting that FluMist Quadrivalent—the brand name for LAIV—was only effective three percent of the time in 2 to 17 year olds during the 2015-2016 flu season.

Some say it’s surprising that this nasal spray, used in one-third of all kids given flu vaccines in the United States and the CDC’s preferred vaccination method for young children just two years ago, now might be fairly useless in preventing the virus.

“This is a little unusual but not totally unexpected,” explains Dr. Michael McKenna, a pediatrician at the Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. “People were noticing in the past couple of years that the spray didn’t seem to be as effective, which is probably why the CDC looked at it again.”

The nasal spray vaccine is a live but weakened virus that works by getting into nasal cells and generating an immune response that sticks around throughout the flu season, Dr. McKenna says. The traditional flu shot, however, works differently: The injectable vaccine contains protein elements, or pieces of the virus that we know the immune system won’t respond to, but will recognize and respond if it attacks from outside the body. “We know of certain things on the virus’s coat that we can use to attack it so our immune system can identify it and fend it off,” Dr. McKenna explains. “But part of why the flu is so dangerous is that the virus mutates quite often.”

Each year, the CDC has to make an educated guess to predict which strains will be the ones most likely to make people sick during flu season, he says, and vaccines are developed to attack those strains. At times, though, guesses can be off. But the nasal spray’s current suspected ineffectiveness isn’t thought to be an issue of addressing the right strains; it might have to do with how it’s processed.

Finalized flu vaccine recommendations require approval from CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden and will be published on the agency’s website in late summer or early fall. Until then, the CDC continues to recommend the traditional flu vaccine to all appropriate parties, which will be available for the 2016 season in September, for children older than 6 months.

-- By Virginia Pelley

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