Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine May Offer No Benefit

Flu
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Your influenza-fighting options may be fewer in the upcoming flu season.

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control committee voted Thursday that the only noninjection influenza vaccine on the market “should not be used during the 2016-2017 flu season.”

This vaccine, often referred to as a “nasal spray” influenza vaccine and sold under the name FluMist, involves no needle. It is sprayed into the nasal passages.

It’s also unique in that it is what’s known as a live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), meaning it contains live but weakened influenza viruses as opposed to inactive influenza viruses.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted that the LAIV should not be used based on preliminary data showing it had a vaccine effectiveness rate of 3 percent among children ages 2 through 17 during the 2015-2016 flu season.

By comparison, inactivated influenza vaccines had a 63 percent vaccine effectiveness among the same age group.

“This 3 percent estimate means no protective benefit could be measured,” reads the CDC’s announcement about the committee vote.

Additionally, data from the prior two flu seasons showed “poor and/or lower than expected vaccine effectiveness” for the LAIV.

The reason for the LAIV’s poor performance is unknown, according to the CDC’s announcement.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, explains in an NPR report:

“The company [that manufactures FluMist], the FDA, and other investigators still haven’t been able to put their scientific finger on the exact reason, but there are several studies that have indicated that in the United States the vaccine has underperformed in a very substantial way.”

The CDC committee’s recommendation must be reviewed and approved by CDC’s director before it becomes CDC policy. The federal agency’s final annual recommendations for influenza vaccination will be published in late summer or early fall.

Since February 2010, the CDC has recommended annual influenza vaccines for everyone ages 6 months and older. For the most recent flu season, “influenza vaccination was recommended without any preference for one vaccine type or formulation over another,” according to the CDC.

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