A panel of immunization experts has not recommended the nasal spray vaccine for the past two flu seasons. This week, they voted to include FluMist as an option for doctors to use next year.
News from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention could be a game-changer for anyone who preferred the FluMist, the nasal spray version of the flu vaccine, over an old-school flu shot. For the past two flu seasons, a panel of immunization experts known as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has not recommended FluMist. But on Wednesday, February 21, they voted 12-2 to include it as an option for doctors during the 2018-2019 flu season.
According to CNN, the U.S. Centers for DIsease Control & Prevention is expected to get on-board with the recommendation of the committee. "The nasal spray flu vaccine is licensed for use in otherwise healthy, non-pregnant people ages 2 through 49 years," CDC spokesman Ian Branam said in a statement.
Besides how they're administered, the main difference between FluMist and the flu shot is that the viruses in FluMist are live but weakened or attenuated, while the viruses in the shot are killed. The original thought was that the attenuated viruses would produce a stronger immune response, according to the CDC.
In summer 2016, the CDC advised against using FluMist for the coming flu season (2016-2017), pointing to data that it wasn't very effective at keeping the virus at bay from 2013-2016, and in the 2015-2016 flu season, it had essentially no protective benefit for children ages 2 to 17. Experts say this may have to do with the particular strains of flu that have been circulating in recent years, such as influenza A H1N1.
That said, a study published in the journal Pediatrics in January 2016 concluded that the spray was just as effective as the shot at safe-guarding kids from the influenza strain H3N2 (the strain causing so much strife this flu season) and the influenza B strain during recent flu seasons.
The committee's change of heart may also have to do with the fact that, according to Branam, they "heard data from the vaccine manufacturer about a possible root cause of poor effectiveness against the influenza A H1N1 virus in the past and a potential solution to address this." The fix: FluMist maker AstraZeneca will use a different type of influenza A H1N1 virus in the vaccine.
AstraZeneca also showed results of a recent pediatric study, involving children aged 2 to 4, in which the H1N1 strain in the 2017-18 vaccine "performed significantly better" than the H1N1 strain in the 2015-16 vaccine, according to a statement released by the company on Wednesday.
In light of the devastating flu season we're currently battling throughout the country, the more effective vaccination options we all have, the better. While FluMist will be readily available next year, parents will surely want to take all the research into consideration when deciding which form of the vaccine serves their families best.