The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Nasal spray most effective in young people ages 6 to 18

Olivia-Condon1-thumbnailIt's time for your annual flu shot. With anxiety you wait until it is your turn to go inside, where the doctor unwraps a fresh needle to give you an injection.

 If you are one of those people who are getting goose bumps just by imagining this scene, there's a new alternative to getting a flu shot.

It's now possible to get a flu vaccine through a nasal spray. The product is known as FluMist.

How FluMist compares to the injection

The FluMist vaccine is a weakened version of the flu virus which very closely mimics how the body gets affected by the normal virus, said Glen Armstrong, a professor and chair of the department of medical microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary. This means that it looks like the real virus, but does not result in a flu.

The injection, however, is a killed version of the virus, which is recognized by the body as a foreign protein, he said. The immune system then reacts to the injection with antibodies, which attack the protein.Olivia-Condon2MRU student Olivia Condon can’t stand needles – she prefers the nasal spray.

Photo by: Verena Isak

He said that the vaccine activates the immunity in the same way like the virus does.

"It educates the immune system. When the normal virus comes, the immune system knows how to react," he explained.

However, FluMist cannot be self administered. Howard May of Alberta Health and Wellness, said in an emai, "As a biological product, it would have to be administered under the supervision of a physician, nurse or pharmacist."

 To whom can the spray be administered?

The nasal flu vaccine can only be taken by people between the ages of two and 59 years old.

Armstrong said it does not work in babies because their immune system is not mature enough. Also, the spray cannot be administered to pregnant women as "their immune system is in a weakened state," he said. The same applies to all other people whose immune system is weakened, he added.

"The spray is very effective in younger people from six to adolescence. The effectiveness falls off as people age," the professor stated. Therefore, he said, it's better for people over the age of 60 to get an injection.

The spray has been available in the United States since 2003, here in Canada, since June 2011.

"It educates the immune system. When the normal virus comes, the immune system knows how to react." - Professor and Chair of the department of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the University of Calgary, Glen Armstrong

The time gap between the release of the spray in Canada and the U.S. was the result of additional tests the vaccine had to go through to receive approval in Canada, the professor said.

Armstrong said both the spray and the injection are very safe and effective. Still, he finds the nasal flu vaccine is "safer than an injection."

Olivia Condon, a first-year student at Mount Royal University, is thinking about getting the nasal flu vaccine. She finds FluMist a "neat alternative to the shot."

"I have never gotten a flu shot, but I would get the nasal spray if I could afford it," she said. While the flu shot is free as covered by the Government of Alberta Health and Wellness, FluMist has to be paid for. The vaccine is available at pharmacies for about $20 to $30.

"Some people have phobia so I think it is more encouraging to offer a less invasive form of the vaccine," the 17-year-old student said.

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