Flu watch: Debunking myths about the FluMist vaccineWith flu shots in short supply, another kind of flu vaccine is getting more attention this fall. The nasal spray vaccine prompted many questions during SMDC’s H1N1 vaccination clinic last week.
By: Dr. Timothy Burke, For the Duluth News Tribune
With flu shots in short supply, another kind of flu vaccine is getting more attention this fall. The nasal spray vaccine prompted many questions during SMDC’s H1N1 vaccination clinic last week.
The nasal spray vaccine, also known by its trade name FluMist, is a safe and effective option for both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 flu. Even though this type of vaccine has been around for about five years, there are still many questions about how it works and why you should get it for yourself or your children.
The nasal spray vaccine is for healthy people ages 2 to 49 who are not pregnant. It’s not for older people, or for adults and children with medical conditions, such as chronic heart or lung disease, asthma, diabetes or other conditions that weaken the immune system.
People sometimes see this list and think FluMist must not be safe for anyone. However, clinical studies have found that the nasal spray is simply not as effective as the shot for people 50 and older. The Food and Drug Administration also wants to gain more experience with FluMist before approving it for pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions.
The nasal spray vaccine contains a live flu strain that is intentionally weakened during the manufacturing process. The virus is also “cold-adapted,” which means it can live only at the cooler temperatures found in your nose, and not in your lungs where the temperature is higher. Because the nasal spray works in your mucus membranes, it stops the virus at what I call the “front door.” The flu shot, which has a dead virus, builds protection in your blood.
One advantage of FluMist is that you don’t get stuck with a needle. Another is that children have longer-lasting immunity after getting the nasal spray, even when compared to the injection. If you are concerned about preservatives, the nasal spray vaccine doesn’t have any.
Some people report mild side-effects including runny nose, nasal congestion, cough, tiredness, sore throat and headache. You may be think that sounds like the flu, but these side-effects are mild and short-lasting compared to full-blown symptoms.
If you plan to get the nasal spray vaccine for both the seasonal flu and H1N1 flu, you need to get them at least 28 days apart. You cannot get either vaccine as a nasal spray or a shot if you are currently ill with fever or have a severe allergy to eggs.
I’m often asked if you can pass the virus to someone else after getting the nasal spray vaccine. The chance is very unlikely. I recently learned that for five years FluMist has been routinely given to caregivers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a prominent pediatric cancer center where all patients are immuno-suppressed. St. Jude’s only restriction is that those who get FluMist cannot work in the bone marrow transplant unit for a week.
Because we are seeing limited supplies of flu vaccine — both seasonal and H1N1 — I strongly encourage you to get the nasal spray if you are eligible.
I believe the nasal spray is safe and effective for the approved groups — and if it weren’t, I would not be making this recommendation.
I want to thank everyone who turned out for SMDC’s H1N1 vaccination clinic last week. We vaccinated about 2,500 adults and children in the four priority groups. I also want to thank those who didn’t show up because they’re not in the groups at highest risk of medical complications from the pandemic virus. Thanks for waiting for your turn.