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FluMist Vs. A Flu Shot: Which Is Better?

child flu shot

It's that time of year again - flu season! In the hustle and bustle of summer ending, kids going back to school, and then prepping for the Holiday Trilogy, it's easy to overlook that we're entering one of the scariest times of the year for parents. You hear people try to downplay the flu every year, but in reality it's an incredibly serious illness that claims the lives of tens of thousands of people in this country, every single year. Infants, young children, seniors, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems are the most vulnerable. But the flu can strike anyone, and it can make even the healthiest adults very, very sick.

Luckily, there's a vaccine for that! Every year, a new seasonal flu vaccine is released, which protects against the most virulent forms of influenza. As parents, it's normal to have some trepidation about which flu vaccine is best for your kids, so we're going to try to alleviate some of the confusion around the flu shot and FluMist nasal spray vaccinations.

What is the flu shot?

Brave little ponytailed african girl receiving protective disease vaccine.Hand holding syringe with needle near upper arm.
Credit: iStock

The flu shot, which protects against influenza virus, is a vaccine that is injected directly into your body, usually in the upper arm. The shot is made of dead or inactive influenza virus, and contrary to popular myth, it cannot give you the flu. Some people may experience some mild side effects related to the shot, such as a sore upper arm, low grade fever, or mild body aches. But those are normal side effects, they're not considered serious, and they should not be mistaken for flu symptoms. The flu shot is recommended for healthy adults, children, and infants over 6 months old. The shot is even safe and approved for use in pregnant women.

What is the FluMist?

Close up shot pharmacist holding nasal spray medicine at the drugstore.Seasonal health issues
Credit: iStock

FluMist is another vaccine that protects against influenza virus, but this one is administered as a nasal spray sprayed into the nasal cavities. This particular vaccine is made using attenuated, or live, influenza virus. The virus used in the nasal spray has been weakened, and still can't give you the flu. But "they can be more severe than the side effects of the flu shot," WebMD says, and can cause flu-like symptoms. Adults may develop a sore throat, cough, headache, or runny nose. Children can experience the same symptoms, and may also fever, vomiting, or wheezing.

The FluMist is recommended for fewer groups of people; it's recommended for healthy people between the ages of 2-49. It is not recommended for children under the age of 2, pregnant women, adults over 50, people with certain conditions like asthma or kidney diseases, people who've had reactions to other flu vaccines, people with weakened or compromised immune systems, and others.

Which one is better this flu season?

Close up of mother measuring temperature of her ill kid son sick child with high fever laying in
Credit: iStock

In previous flu seasons, the FluMist vaccine was not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, because it didn't protect against certain viral strains of influenza. However, the formulation of the nasal spray was changed for this flu season, 2019-2020. It's more effective against the predicted strains of the virus, and is now being recommended by both the AAP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's a good option for parents of young kids who may not like getting shots. But considering the potential for more severe side effects, and the limits on who can safely get the FluMist nasal spray flu vaccine, the flu shot is probably going to be the most logical and easiest option for a lot of families.

Regardless of which vaccine you decide to administer to your kids, it's so important to get your flu vaccines before flu season really gets underway. In 2018, flu killed nearly 80,000 people, and there are already flu deaths reported this year. Experts aren't sure just how bad this year will get (last year was the longest flu season in a decade), and you don't want to wait too long and risk catching the virus.

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