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DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I’ve always been told FluMist is just as effective as the flu shot for kids, so why isn’t the mist available this year? Does that mean the shot is not likely to be very effective either?
ANSWER: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine for all children 6 months and older. Mayo Clinic strongly endorses that recommendation. Depending on your child’s age and health, you typically can choose between a flu shot and the nasal spray form of the flu vaccine. However, this year, only the flu shot is recommended because the spray has been relatively ineffective in recent flu seasons.
Influenza, usually called the flu, is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system. It’s not the same as what people often refer to as “stomach flu,” which causes diarrhea and vomiting. Common symptoms of the flu include a fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, muscle aches, headache, a cough, a sore throat and fatigue.
Influenza often goes away on its own without any lasting problems. But, sometimes, influenza can be life-threatening. People at higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu include children younger than 5 years old, adults older than 65, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems.
Even if you’re not in one of those categories, though, you still need a flu shot. While the flu may not cause lasting problems for you, you can spread it easily to others who may not fare as well. The best defense against influenza is getting the flu vaccine every year.
In the past, multiple studies showed that the nasal spray flu vaccine worked as well as, and sometimes better than, the injectable form of the vaccine. But newer research has found that, during the last two flu seasons, the mist hasn’t provided much, if any, protection against the flu virus. In contrast, the flu shot provided a high level of protection.
Based on those findings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that, during this flu season, children 6 months and older get the flu vaccine by injection only.
If your child has a lot of anxiety about shots, ask your health care provider if a spray coolant or a vibrating ice pack can be applied to the skin to numb it before the vaccine is given. That can make the injection less painful and may reduce the fear associated with getting the vaccine as a shot.
To give your child the most protection from the flu, it’s best to get the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available and before disease outbreaks occur in your area. It takes up to two weeks after vaccination for a person to be fully protected from the flu.
If your child is younger than 9 years old and is getting the vaccine for the first time, he or she needs two doses, given at least four weeks apart. Children who needs two doses but only receive one may have little or no protection from the flu. If your child has had two or more total doses of the flu vaccine during past seasons, then one dose is enough this season. Or if your child is now 9 years old or older, one dose also is enough. Yearly flu vaccines also are recommended for all adults.
To protect yourself, your children and the people around you most effectively, get your flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available to you. — Dr. Robert M. Jacobson, Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota