Flu Vaccine: When a Sniff Beats a Jab

With flu vaccination now recommended for nearly everyone ages 6 months and up, families will be happy to know that a needle-free - and more effective - option may soon be available for kids as young as 2.

FluMist, a nasal spray vaccine, is currently only approved for use in children ages 5 and older. But in May an independent advisory panel recommended that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) extend approval to ages 2 to 5. The FDA isn't required to follow the advice of outside panels, but it usually does.

The panel's recommendation comes on the heels of a study published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that children under 5 who received FluMist had 54 percent fewer cases of flu than those who received the flu shot. Researchers suspect that's because delivering the vaccine directly into the nose causes antibodies to develop where they're needed most.

FluMist still isn't recommended for people with asthma, pregnant women or people over age 49, who are more likely to suffer side effects. But others can choose either the injection or nasal spray.

"The side effects differ, so that may be a consideration for some," says Carolyn Bridges, M.D., associate director for science with the influenza division of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Flu shots are more likely to cause injection-site soreness, while FluMist can cause stuffy nose and congestion. Both can cause minor body aches and fever - but that sure beats getting the flu.

- Christina Elston

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