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Kids face prick in arm for flu vaccine this year

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

Kids accustomed to getting a nasal spray flu vaccine each year are in for a shock this fall when they instead face a needle at their school vaccination clinics.

A committee that advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended against using the nasal spray, based on evidence that injectable vaccine offers better protection from influenza.

The spray, well known by the brand name FluMist, has been a mainstay of New Mexico school vaccination clinics, which immunized some 48,000 children last year at 470 schools statewide.

The nearly unanimous vote last week by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices stunned New Mexico health officials, who had believed FluMist offered superior protection for kids.

“It’s just a very surprising and very disappointing turn of events,” Dr. Randall Knott, a pediatrician at University of New Mexico Hospital, said of the CDC announcement. “Very, very discouraging.”

The decision means that no nasal spray vaccinations will be used at school clinics, hospitals or clinics around the state, he said.

“Both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics are telling us that we should not use the FluMist for this upcoming flu season,” Knott said. “In practical terms, we’re only going to be using shots this year.”

New Mexico Department of Health officials confirmed that no FluMist doses will be used in the state during the 2016-2017 season.

The agency pre-ordered 243,000 pediatric doses of flu vaccine for the coming season, of which 115,000 were FluMist doses.

“Our first priority is to continue working with CDC to determine how we can increase the number of injectable pediatrics vaccine to replace FluMist,” DOH spokesman Kenny Vigil said in a written statement.

Nationwide, nasal spray accounted for about a third of all flu vaccines given to children and about 8 percent of the total flu vaccine supply.

The CDC said it would work with manufacturers through the summer to ensure there is enough vaccine supply to meet demand.

Kids prefer getting the nasal spray over a shot, and providers like it because it is quicker and easier to administer, Knott said.

“It’s very bad news, because we were very fond of administering the FluMist,” he said.

The decision has created uncertainty for the school vaccination program, called the School Kids Influenza Immunization Program, or SKIIP, said Anna Pentler, executive director of the New Mexico Immunization Coalition, who oversees the program.

“It was a complete shock,” Pentler said of the CDC announcement.

Last year, FluMist accounted for about 92 percent of vaccinations offered at New Mexico elementary, middle and high schools, she said.

“We have only just started the conversation with our school health advocates around the state to trying and figure out how to move forward,” she said.

Schools participate in the program voluntarily. Some schools and districts in the past have offered only FluMist but no injectable vaccine, Pentler said.

“The ones that don’t offer injectable, I don’t know if they will participate at all this year,” she said.