You’ll be offered a shot, but not a sniff this flu season.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted in June that the live attenuated influenza vaccine nasal spray, commonly known as FluMist, not be used during the 2016-2017 flu season.
That means that everyone will get their flu vaccine through injection.
The expert panel made the decision based on studies from 2013 to 2016 showing lower effectiveness of the live vaccine administered through nasal spray. Preliminary data that became available in late May showed especially low effectiveness of the nasal spray among children ages 2 to 17 during last year’s flu season.
Akron Children’s is one of the hospital systems sharing data with the CDC.
Still, the decision was a shock to Dr. Blaise Congeni, director of Infectious Disease at Akron Children’s.
“Early on, we assumed it might be an issue with handling or the way the nasal spray was administered,” said Dr. Congeni, who served as the principal investigator for the research study at Akron Children’s. “But now it appears the handling issue has been resolved, yet the vaccine efficacy from U.S. studies was essentially zero – same as placebo. It’s going to be really important to learn why this wasn’t effective and what the implications are for all live vaccines.”
Dr. Congeni hopes the change won’t affect compliance with adults and children getting their flu vaccines this year. Many children prefer a ticklish blast of vaccine to the nose rather than a shot to the arm.
Although orders for the FluMist, produced by MedImmune, were already in place when the CDC’s decision was announced, adequate supplies of inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) and recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV) (for everyone 6 months and older) are expected at doctors’ offices, hospital offices and flu clinics.
If there was to be an impact, it would most likely be in pediatrics since the nasal spray flu vaccine accounts for about one third of all flu vaccines given to children.
“We were able to change our order quickly and, with 27 primary care offices, four urgent care centers and two hospitals, Akron Children’s size gives us priority standing with Sanofi, the pharmaceutical company that supplies our flu vaccine,” said Debbie Clouse, clinical manager with Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics. “It’s helpful that several pharmaceutical manufacturers are involved in the vaccine production so everyone is working on this through the summer.”
Debbie believes the first shipments of the vaccine could arrive at Akron Children’s as early as September – well in time for even an early flu season should that happen.
Typically, flu season is December through February in northeast Ohio.
Flu clinics through Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics offices and those offered in local schools through the hospital’s School Health division should proceed as usual – just without the FluMist option.
According to the CDC, vaccine manufacturers had projected as many as 176 million doses of flu vaccine, in all forms, would be available in the U.S. this year. The nasal spray vaccine was projected to be about 14 million doses or about 8 percent of the total projected supply.
“While a surprise, this recommendation shows the importance of continually studying data to make – and adjust – the public health policies,” said Dr. Congeni. “I certainly hope we do not see a drop in the number of children, as well as adults, getting their flu vaccine this year. Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death, and our children with special health needs are especially vulnerable.”