FluMist vaccine ineffective, CDC says

For students who get their flu vaccines at schools across Columbus and Worthington, the nasal spray will not be an option this year.

Columbus Public Health, which offers vaccines at its clinic and at public and private schools in Columbus and Worthington, will not buy FluMist this year after a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel recommended against using the vaccine.

“We knew this was coming,” said Jose Rodriguez, spokesman for Columbus Public Health.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital also didn’t purchase FluMist this year, said Dr. Dennis Cunningham, medical director for epidemiology and infection control. And neither did Franklin County Public Health, spokeswoman Michelle Day said.

The CDC recommendation followed an analysis of nasal mist effectiveness among children during the 2015-16 flu season that showed FluMist was about 3 percent effective.

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months or older get a flu vaccine unless they have medical reasons to avoid them. Vaccination protects individuals and reduces the chances that they will spread disease to babies, older people and cancer patients, all of whom are more vulnerable.

Public health officials stress that though flu vaccines generally are effective 50 to 60 percent of the time, they still are the best defense against the viral illness. And if you do get the flu after vaccination, you’re more likely to have a less-severe version of it.

When FluMist first was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it was more effective than the shot in some studies, said CDC epidemiologist Brendan Flannery.

Flannery, who works in the CDC’s influenza division, said that changed during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

Then, annual flu shots and FluMist contained three strains of flu. During the pandemic, a new spray specifically targeted at H1N1 was developed, which worked. In late 2013, the H1N1 strain was added to annual vaccines. That’s when the effectiveness of the nasal mist began to wane, Flannery said.

“The shot has been consistent,” he said. “That’s the big thing.”

During the most recent flu season, about 8 percent of flu doses produced nationwide were FluMist, according to the CDC.

“I think it’s likely going to be a challenge for many families in which their children are used to getting FluMist and will now have to get a vaccine with a needle stick,” Rodriguez said. “The good news is it doesn’t hurt very much and it’s only one time during the flu season.”

Ohio’s flu season normally begins after Thanksgiving and lasts until May, he said. In that period and the preceding months, Columbus Public Health will dole out thousands of vaccinations.

“It’s a small price to pay when you think of the risk for complications from contracting the flu,” he said.

ebohatch@dispatch.com

@emilybohatch

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