It’s a long, sad story that has surprised us all (or surprised me at least). The disappearance of FluMist. What happened? Where has it gone? What do we do now? Kids and needle-phobic adults everywhere are in a panic. Let Helpful Pharmacist tell you what you need to know.
FluMist is an influenza vaccine in the form of a nasal spray. It has been recommended for years for children and scaredy-cat adults up to age 49. The main reason most parents used FluMist in the past was so their kids didn’t have to get a shot. Kids are terrified of shots, so if you can avoid the terror that is a good thing. It has also been effective for years, until recently, which has caused a major shift in recommendations from our government.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a committee known as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The ACIP basically decides policy related to all types of immunizations, including flu. Upon reviewing the effectiveness of all flu vaccines in recent years, it was discovered that FluMist has not been working as well as it had in the past. Some estimates from last flu season put it’s effectiveness as low as 3%, compared to about 60% effectiveness for last years flu shot. As a result of this data, the ACIP has recommended that FluMist not be used at all during the current season. The American Association of Pediatrics agrees with this recommendation as well.
What happened is a bit of a mystery. What we do know is that the coverage for one particular strain of the flu known as H1N1 seems to be the failing point for FluMist. This strain has been included in the formulation for several years, and it may be the case that most people had enough antibodies already from previous years that their bodies didn’t respond to last years vaccine. Unfortunately, this didn’t mean that they had enough antibodies to appropriately fight the flu. It just meant that they had enough antibodies to prevent new ones from being made. H1N1 was also included in the flu shot last year, which was one of the most effective flu shots we have seen in recent years.
What do we do now?
The answer is: you suck it up and get the shot. The technology in the design of needles has improved so much recently that you can barely tell you were poked. I promise. Don’t skip this year just because you are scared. It leaves you unprotected and also allows you to spread the flu to others in your community. Your pharmacy is a great, convenient place to go for this service. Plus, if you have insurance, it is almost always free of charge at your pharmacy. For kids, be sure to ask in advance about lower age limits at your pharmacy. A lot of pharmacies will not vaccinate children below a certain age. My previous article addresses what time of year is the best to receive your flu shot. You can read that article here.
Is FluMist available at all?
Yes, the manufacturer has decided to bring the product to market. The tricky part will be finding someone who is willing to give it to you. Based on the current evidence, I think it is an irresponsible decision for a health care professional to even order FluMist. However, there is money to be made here, so someone will probably be willing to help you out if you look hard enough. There is a chance that it will work fine this year but going against the ACIP recommendations is usually not a smart idea. Your insurance company will probably not cover it if you are able to find it. They look for reasons not to pay for things. This is a pretty good reason to put FluMist on the excluded list. I do not recommend that you try to find this product, no matter how scared your kids are.
Is this the end of FluMist forever?
No. I am sure MedImmune (the manufacturer of FluMist) will figure this out and put a better product out in years to come. They will have to prove effectiveness to the ACIP, but I feel that it will be available, and recommended, again in the near future.
In conclusion, I do believe everyone who is recommended to receive a flu shot should do so. See the recommendations here. It is quick, easy, low risk, almost painless, and usually free. You owe it to yourself, your family, and your community to protect everyone against the flu.
If you have any questions about the flu vaccine or FluMist you may leave them in the comment field below, or send me a direct question at firstname.lastname@example.org.