Bad news for needlephobes: no more nasal flu vaccine for now

Image 1 of 10

No more needle-free flu vaccine for now.   That’s the word from the CDC, after a panel of experts voted late Wednesday that the FluMist nasal flu vaccine should stop being used for the coming flu season.

For years, FluMist seemed like a godsend for parents of children nervous about needles.  A puff of medication up the nose, and you were protected, or, maybe not.

"It's clear that the vaccine used to work really, really well, sometimes better than the shot,” says Dr. Joe Bresee, a CDC epidemiologist,

 Dr. Joe Bresee says for the last few years, research shows the FluMist nasal spray hasn't provided much, if any protection against the seasonal flu, although no one is sure exactly why.

“There are a few theories,” says Bresee.  “They revolve around something about the strain in the vaccine doesn't work so well in kids' noses or adults' noses. Or, something about the population has changed to make them more resistant to responding the vaccine. I think both of those possibilities are under investigation.”

According to the latest data from the 2015-2016 flu season, in children from 2 to 17, the nasal flu vaccine was only 3% percent effective. That's compared to the shot, which was 63% effective in the same age group.

That lapse in protection is the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted the FluMist should stop being used for the coming 2016-2017 flu season.

"For the parents of the kids who like the FluMist, who liked the nasal spray, I'm sorry,” says Dr. Bresee, who admits three of his four children get the nasal vaccine.  “But a shot is better than getting the influenza virus itself.”

Medimmune, a subsidiary of AstraZeneca and FluMist's manufacturer, had produced about 14 million doses for the upcoming flu season.

That's about 11% of the total U.S. vaccine supply, and represents about a third of all vaccine given to kids.

One challenge?  Many providers, like pediatricians, have already ordered their flu vaccine for the 2016-2017 flu season.    Now they'll have to go back to the drawing board and figure out to find injectable vaccine for up to 30% of their patients who prefer the FluMist.

The CDC says it's confident there will be enough injectable flu vaccine to go around this fall.   The question is whether children -- and adults -- will be willing to brave the shot.  

"Flu can be a serious disease, especially in kids,” says Dr. Bresee. So it's more important to get your kid vaccinated.  Even if they don't want a shot.  A shot is better than getting the flu."

In a statement, The American Academy of Pediatrics says it is backing the CDC panel's move and cautioning against passing up on flu shots.

”The AAP continues to strongly recommend parents immunize all children older than 6 months against influenza every year,” says AAP president, Dr. Benard, M.D.Dreyer. “Flu vaccine is the best way we have to protect children, and being immunized every year significantly reduces the risk of a child being hospitalized due to flu.”