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CDC’s Verdict: FluMist Powerless in Fighting Flu

Fighting influenza this upcoming flu season just got harder and more painful with the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation of benching FluMist, the popular nasal spray influenza vaccine.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee On Immunization Practices recommended on June 23 that people should not use FluMist due to its poor performance levels compared to the more common injectable vaccine.

How bad was FluMist’s performance against safeguarding people from influenza during the 2015-16 flu season? The committee’s research showed the nasal spray had a horrible, startling 3 percent efficiency rate – essentially offering zero protection against the flu.

“To everyone’s surprise and increasing consternation, this vaccine has performed quite poorly compared to the injectable vaccine,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist, told CNN.

An alternate to the standard flu shot, FluMist had been approved for people between the ages of 2 and 49 years old by the Food and Drug Administration. First approved by the FDA in 2003, FluMist is preferred by many pediatricians and parents hoping to spare children the pain and potential terror of the standard flu shot. The CDC estimates one third of all flu vaccinations administered to children are nasal spray. FluMist did $206 million in sales in fiscal year 2015.

FluMist is produced by Medimmune, a subsidiary of the the London-based AstraZeneca PLC. The FDA has been working with Medimmune to determine why FluMist works so poorly.

The CDC committee arrived at its conclusion to bench FluMust after reviewing data from previous flu seasons, including the 2015-16 season. The committee compared FluMist’s performance against the standard flu shot.

The committee’s decision must be approved by CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden before taking effect.

Why is FluMist failing the CDC’s flu fighting litmus test? Although the viruses in the vaccines are live, they have been weakened. FluMist features two versions: A trivalent vaccine designed to protect against three strands of the flu, and quadrivalent, which offers safeguards against four strains.

The trouble: The CDC advisory committee’s study on FluMist’s effectiveness found the quadrivalent vaccine to be 46 percent effective, compared with the flu shot’s 65 percent efficiency. During the last flu season, FluMist’s success rate at fighting the flu was practically zero, according to the committee’s findings.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) endorsed the CDC advisory committee’s decision on flu mist.

“We agree with the decision today to recommend health care providers and parents use only the inactivated vaccine,” Dr. Benard Dreyer, president of the AAP, said in a statement.

The major question now facing parents who’ve trusted FluMist for their children: Do they continue to trust the nasal spray for the upcoming flu season. FluMist has already been produced for the 2016-17 season.

“It’s still a licensed vaccine,” CDC medical officer Lisa Grohskopf told the New York Times, “and some may use it anyway.

“If there is less use as a result of our recommendation, it will be difficult to know how well it works. In order to evaluate a vaccine, you have to have lots of use.”

But FluMist is one vaccine that no longer has the CDC’s stamp of approval.

Photo: Doug Finger/Gainesville Sun/Landov

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