Summer vacation has just started and it feels like the mild 2015-2016 flu season just ended. Here we are already hearing about new recommendations for the 2016-2017 season. Big news in the media today about flu vaccine: recommendations to only offer the shot (and no nasal flu spray) to improve children’s and public protection from the vaccine. Hundreds of children in the US die each year from influenza. We know the best way to protect against complications from influenza is to have families immunized. Flu vaccine is an every-year, essential vaccine as the strains included in the vaccine shift each year based on the types of flu predicted to spread across North America.

Recommendations For Pediatricians And Family Practitioners: Only Flu Shot For Families

Yesterday The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) endorsed the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommendations to AVOID use of flu mist vaccine this coming flu season.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will review the recommendations shortly; if CDC accepts the recommendation it will become official US policy.

We all want choice with vaccines and the nasal spray was a great option and a safe one. It was particularly effective during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic flu season and has been safe and very well received (no poke!) by families ever since for children over the age of 2. However, data from the past three years have found that it has been less effective in protecting children and their families from the most common strains of flu circulating (more below).

The nasal flu spray vaccine is still licensed and still safe. Because of recent data, this year to improve protection, ACIP is recommending only using the injected flu shot because it is far more effective at protecting against the strains of flu expected to arrive in the US.

That means a needle and quick poke for our kids. I talked to the TODAY Show about the recommendations this morning. I also talked with influenza and vaccine experts.

This decision was made to protect children against flu because no one wants to give a vaccine that is not as good as another vaccine. There are no safety concerns-just effectiveness concerns.” ~Janet Englund, Seattle Children’s Hospital Infectious Disease expert

Flu vaccines are different from most other vaccines because influenza virus shifts and drifts from one strain to the next each year. The vaccine is prepared annually to improve the likelihood of it working to protect the type of flu that eventually arrives and causes infection. Because it’s prepared annually and the strains shift and change, flu vaccine effectiveness varies from year to year. While vaccines aren’t 100% effective in all who get them (influenza vaccine typically has a vaccine effectiveness between 50 and 60%) and the science behind them is always changing, they are our best bet at protection against influenza.

What To Know About Nasal Flu Vaccine

  • Accounts for roughly 1/3 of all flu vaccines given to children in recent years.
  • Uses a live but weakened strains of flu virus to stimulate the immune system to protect.
  • Effectiveness has varied. Last year for example, the 2015-2016 nasal flu vaccine is estimated to have been only 3% effective protecting against any strain of flu (versus an estimated 63% vaccine effectiveness for the injected flu shot).

Influenza and complications from the infection are hardest on infants and young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions that make it harder to deal with the infection (diabetes, asthma, neurologic conditions and problems with the immune system). Depending on the season, influenza causes anywhere between 4,000 and 50,000 deaths a year in the US. Thankfully, each year only a couple hundred of those deaths are children. The flu vaccine is recommended for ALL infants and children ages 6 months & up to protect them from the infection, their community, and severe complications.

Talking To Kids About Shots

  • Don’t promise no-needle visits! Pediatricians will also work hard from today forward to not promise the opportunity to always offer a nasal flu vaccine option. We’ll likely get to offer it in upcoming seasons, but this year, we’re back to the shot.
  • Remember that needle phobia is real. Treat the anxiety with respect and work with your pediatrician and care team to minimize anxiety with shots.
  • Teach the “cough trick”. It’s a distraction technique (a child or teen coughs, just as the needle goes in). Ask your child to cough as the shot is being administered and studies have shown that kids feel less pain.
  • Children watch their parent’s experience with shots. Know that your reactions and comments of calm and trust go a long way. Here are some additional tips to help get your children through shots.
  • Treats (ice cream, special snack, time at a special park or restaurant) after shot visits are AWESOME incentives!