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How effective is the nasal spray flu vaccine?

Sybil Millar
Written by Sybil Millar

With kids back in school and cooler fall temperatures upon us, flu season is right around the corner.

Getting the flu vaccine is the best way to keep you and your family healthy during flu season. This can be done in one of two ways: by getting the flu shot, or by getting the nasal spray flu vaccine.

However, deciding which method to use has recently become more confusing. After it was announced that the nasal spray would not be used in the U.S. this year, many have wondered whether the nasal spray flu vaccine is still effective.

To learn more about the nasal spray flu vaccine, we spoke with Dr. Samira Mubareka, microbiologist and infectious diseases consultant at Sunnybrook. Here are four things she wants you to know:

1) The nasal spray flu vaccine is still recommended in Canada

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. announced that the nasal spray is not effective enough to use in the upcoming flu season, the same is not true for Canada.

“The nasal spray is still recommended for use here. In the data that’s been collected in Finland, the United Kingdom and Canada, we haven’t seen the low level of effectiveness of the nasal spray that American studies have found,” says Dr. Mubareka.

2) Studies have found the nasal spray flu vaccine is effective

A recent Canadian study found that when giving children the flu vaccine, the nasal spray was just as effective as the shot. “While we can’t ignore the U.S. data, we should also be keeping our own data in mind,” says Dr. Mubareka.

3) No two flu seasons are the same

Using data from previous flu seasons, researchers work hard to predict which flu strain will be most prominent during the next flu season, months in advance. This means there may be year-to-year variation in how well the vaccine and circulating flu virus strains match. Still, significant protection against getting the flu is provided even during years where the vaccine isn’t a perfect match.

“Researchers continue looking at vaccine effectiveness every year,” says Dr. Mubareka. This means that you should get the flu shot every year, as the flu strain that you’re being protected against also changes every year.

4) Getting the flu vaccine not only protects you, but also those around you who can’t get the vaccine

Not everyone can get the flu vaccine, including babies younger than six months old, who are too young to receive it. Influenza can cause serious illness and death, particularly among the elderly, very young children, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions. “The flu shot is universally recommended in Canada,” says Dr. Mubareka. “Even though it’s still warm out, it’s time to start thinking about flu season and getting the flu vaccine.”

Deciding between the two methods of flu vaccination can be difficult, particularly when it comes to giving it to children. “As a parent, I’ll be keeping a closer eye on new data about the effectiveness of the nasal spray versus the shot,” says Dr. Mubareka, “and I will also ensure my own children are vaccinated this year, one way or another. The most important thing is that they receive an influenza vaccine.”

About the author

Sybil Millar

Sybil Millar

Sybil Millar is the Communications Advisor for the Ross Tilley Burn Centre, Critical Care and Infectious Diseases programs at Sunnybrook.

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