What Should You Do If There is a FluMist Shortage?

FluMist
FluMist Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine. Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Due to a decision by the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the nasal spray flu vaccine (FluMist) is unlikely to be available during the 2016-2017 flu season. Studies during the previous two flu seasons showed that the nasal spray flu vaccine was virtually ineffective at preventing the flu. It's efficacy was drastically lower than that of the injected flu vaccine. This decision has the potential to greatly impact flu immunization rates - especially among children. Although the FluMist vaccine will not be available during the 2016-2017 flu season, it is still important to get vaccinated.  

Many people - especially school-aged children and those who are terrified of needles - count on getting the FluMist each year to protect themselves from the flu. It is easy and painless and protects just as well as the flu shot. 

Unfortunately, sometimes there are delays in manufacturing or other problems and the FluMist may not be available as early as it should be. Flu vaccines are available as early as August or September in most of the United States. Flu season typically occurs sometime between October and April, with peak flu activity generally in January or February. However, it can start at any time and the flu vaccine takes two weeks to provide protection once you get it, so getting it as early in the season as possible is best. 

So what do you do if your preferred flu vaccine option - the FluMist - isn't available? Is it okay to wait? Or should you get the shot instead?

Your Flu Vaccine Options

The CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months old get a flu vaccine.

If there is a shortage of FluMist, they recommend getting the shot as soon as it's available. Getting vaccinated as early as possible provides the greatest protection against the influenza virus. 

But what if you really, really don't want to get a shot?

If you are in a flu high risk group - meaning you are at an increased risk for developing serious illness or complications from the flu - you should get the vaccine that is available as soon as possible.

Don't wait for the FluMist just because it won't hurt. If you take a chance and wait, you are taking a chance that you could be exposed to the flu before you have a chance to get the vaccine.

Another group of people who shouldn't wait are caregivers and family members of those at high risk for the flu. It is just as important to get vaccinated as early as possible if you live with or take care of someone who is likely to become seriously ill from the flu as it is for the at-risk person to do so. 

If you are not considered high risk and you are otherwise healthy, waiting for the FluMist is probably okay. You run the risk that the virus will start to spread in your community before the FluMist is available, but if your chances for getting seriously ill from the flu are low, that may be a risk you are willing to take.

However, if the shortage continues into winter and you are still unable to get the FluMist in December or January, get the shot and protect yourself. 

What Else You Can Do

If you can't - or won't - get a flu shot due to a shortage, there are other steps you can take to decrease the chance that you will get sick.

 

Every day health practices such as washing your hands frequently (and correctly), sneezing and coughing into your arm instead of your hands and living a healthy lifestyle will help minimize the number of germs that get into your body and have the opportunity to make you sick. 

If are diagnosed with the flu, talk to your health care provider about taking antiviral medications at the first sign of your symptoms - they could shorten the severity and duration of your illness. 

Sources:

 

Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines | Health Professionals | Seasonal Influenza (Flu). http://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/acip/index.htm. Accessed September 22, 2016.

"What You Should Know For the 2015-2016 Influenza Season". Seasonal Influenza (Flu) 20 Oct 15. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 26 Oct 15. 

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