Health Canada approves needle-free flu vaccine
Health Canada has for the first time approved a needle-free seasonal flu vaccine. Marketed under the name FluMist, the product is a nasal spray influenza vaccine that protects against the same strains of flu as the traditional injectable flu vaccine – but without the shot in the arm. It has been available in the United States since 2003, where some 27 million doses of needle-free, nasal flu vaccine have been administered.
As part of the approval process, Health Canada looked at data on the effectiveness of the nasal flu vaccine. It reports the intranasal spray vaccine consistently outperforms the injectable flu vaccine in both children and adults. The nasal flu vaccine has also shown it can protect against a range of influenza strains, whereas injectable vaccines generally only protect against the three strains they contain.
Differences between FluMist nasal vaccine and traditional flu shots
Unlike traditional flu shots, which contain inactivated parts of the influenza virus, the FluMist nasal flu vaccine contains live virus. This means there is a potential to catch the flu from the nasal form of the vaccine that Canadians have not previously experienced with the (intramuscular) injectable flu shot.
FluMist contains what is called an attenuated version of the live virus. This means that the virus has been weakened to reduce the possibility of getting the flu from the vaccine. The vaccine is both cold-adapted and temperature-sensitive. The live virus in the vaccine can only reproduce effectively in a narrow temperature range, which further reduces risk of actually getting influenza from the nasal spray vaccine.
That being said, FluMist nasal spray influenza vaccine is not recommended for certain populations. It should be used only in healthy individuals from age 2 to 59. Pregnant women and nursing mothers, and people with asthma or active wheezing should not receive the nasal flu vaccine.
For those worried about thimerosal in flu shots, the good news is that the single dose format of FluMist intranasal influenza vaccine means no need for the preservative. Thimerosal has been eliminated from most vaccines in Canada but is present in very small amounts in the injectable form of seasonal influenza vaccine, which is packaged in a multi-dose vial.
Availability of FluMist influenza vaccine in Canada
Although FluMist nasal vaccine has been approved for use in Canada, it is unlikely most Canadians will benefit from it this flu season. The Toronto Star reports that both FluMist and the newly approved Intanza intradermal vaccine are expected to be significantly more expensive than the injectable version of the flu shot. Provinces and territories will be studying the possibility of adding these options to their seasonal flu vaccine distribution programs in the future. While FluMist may be available for purchase in pharmacies without a prescription, the public is cautioned the vaccine should be administered by a medical professional.
“FluMist influenza vaccine (live, attenuated) intranasal spray.” AstraZeneca Canada product monograph
Andrea Gordon, “New flu vaccines promise less pain.”Toronto Star
“Nasal mist flu vaccine launched in Canada.” CTV News
“Notice of decision for FluMist.” Health Canada