FluMist. When the needle-free flu virus vaccine was first introduced, many parents across the nation rejoiced. Finally, a flu shot that could be given to children – and needle-phobic adults – in a simple, non-invasive way. However, the jubilation that accompanied the release of FluMist was soon accompanied by questions of just how effective it was. And now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has come out to say that FluMist is barely useful.
Why isn’t FluMist effective? The short answer is that no one really knows for sure. The CDC has based its own findings on medical studies that determined in the past year that FluMist only reduced the risk of influenza in its recipients by a paltry three percent. FluMist, and other flu vaccines, are a combination immunization guarding against three or four different strains of the flu. Last year, FluMist claimed to protect those who used it to the H3N2, the dreaded H1N1, and a few other B strains of influenza.
The company that created FluMist, AstraZeneca, which owns MedImmune – the Maryland-based company that created FluMist for the United States – staunchly objects to the Center for Disease Control’s determination that FluMist doesn’t do what it says it does. AstraZeneca commonly cites evidence from a British study that claims that FluMist was more than 57 percent effective on its recipients over the last flu season. AstraZeneca even released a statement exclaiming the support for FluMist.
“We continue to believe FluMist Quadrivalent is an effective vaccine for the prevention of seasonal influenza as supported by the available evidence.”
So who is right and who is wrong when it comes to FluMist? The Centers for Disease Control, or AstraZeneca, the maker of FluMist. While you might be coming to conclusions in your own mind, the answer might not be that simple. Dr. John Treanor from the University of Rochester Medical Center, a doctor who tests flu vaccines, commented on the problem with FluMist.
“The problem could be something specific related to the pandemic H1N1 virus. It might be something about the H1N1 live attenuated influenza vaccine (that’s FluMist) that makes it less effective or less stable, or it might have something to do with some unknown issue with protection against H1N1.”
But does that really answer the question? Perhaps the question isn’t whether the FluMist flu vaccine is effective or not, but rather, whether any flu vaccine is effective. It is an established fact that influenza vaccines are less reliable than other vaccines, simply due to the very nature of influenza. The flu is a virus that is extremely mutable. So much so, in fact, that different vaccines have to be developed each and every year just to keep up with the latest strain of the influenza virus. Even when companies produce the latest and greatest version of the flu vaccine with products like FluMist, sometimes the circulating strains mutate faster than the vaccine makers like AstraZenceca can keep up. Additionally, an influenza strike in the United States may not be the same that affects countries in Europe or Asia. The result is that even the most attentive flu vaccine manufacturers can sometimes miss the mark on what the most effective vaccine will be for a given country.
The fact of the matter is this: for the past and the present year, the Centers for Disease Control in the United States is going on record as saying that FluMist is not entirely effective in guarding against the flu. However, the science supports FluMist in that no flu vaccine is wholly effective each and every year. What may not have been effective this year may be superbly effective this year.
What do you think? Have you or have you had your children try the FluMist vaccine? Did it work?
[Feature Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for FluMist Quadrivalent]