In June 2016 there was a surprise announcement by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that the nasal flu vaccine was not being recommended at all for the upcoming flu season! A committee of 15 immunization experts at the CDC analyzed data and concluded that the nasal flu vaccine had not been effective for the last three years. They said that the nasal flu vaccine had and effectiveness rate of 3%, as compared to 63% effectiveness for the injectable flu vaccine. After the CDC recommendation, in August 2016 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) endorsed the recommendation to not use the nasal flu vaccine.
Ironically, in August 2016 a Canadian study was published that showed almost identical efficacy rates for nasal and injectable flu vaccine over the time period October 2012-May 2015.
It is also ironic that in previous years the CDC had said that the nasal flu was more effective than the flu shot in children younger than age 8 years of age.
Scientists are working hard to find out the reason why the nasal flu vaccine was not effective. The CDC will meet again in October 2016 to reevaluate data and recommendations on the flu vaccine. It should be encouraging to parents and doctors that the experts in the US are continuously monitoring vaccines and their efficacy.
In view of the recommendations by the CDC and AAP, pediatricians had no choice but to cancel the orders for nasal flu and to only offer the injectable flu shot.
Pediatricians are mostly surprised and not thrilled with this development- for two reasons. Firstly, anecdotally neither I nor several of my pediatrician colleagues feel that we saw vaccine failure with the nasal flu vaccine over the last few years. Secondly, we know that it is so much harder to convince some kids to take a shot than it is to convince them to take a nasal spray.
I know from practical experience that some kids are simply ‘shot phobic’ and consequently the flu vaccination rates will go down this year because some kids will refuse to take the flu shot whereas they would have taken the flu mist nasally. I am disappointed that our kid friendly nasal spray flu vaccine is gone. However, we do believe that prevention is better than cure and hence we are proponents of getting a flu vaccine each year.
We are working hard to educate parents and families that the flu shot is much easier to handle than getting the flu which comes with high grade fever, cough, body aches, vomiting, weakness. So, the pediatricians and our nurses are pulling out all the tricks in the bag to help kids take the flu shot- distraction, stickers, toys and by enlisting the help of the parents’ bribe for ice cream or lollipop after the shot.