Flu Shot or Nasal Spray: Which Vaccine Is Right for You?
Do you hate shots - but want to be protected from the flu? Consider the nasal spray vaccine.
Influenza (flu) is a common, contagious disease that kills thousands of people each year. Getting a flu shot each fall can help prevent flu. But some people would rather risk getting sick then get a shot.
If you hate shots but want flu protection, you may have another choice. The flu vaccine is also available as a nasal spray. Other names for the nasal spray flu vaccine are FluMist or LAIV (live, attenuated influenza vaccine).
How is the nasal spray vaccine different from the flu shot?
Both types of vaccine are good at preventing the flu, but they do have some differences.
How they are given
- The flu shot is given as an injection, usually in the upper arm.
- The nasal spray vaccine is sprayed into the nostrils.
Who can use them?
- The flu shot is an option for almost anyone older than 6 months, including people with chronic diseases.
- The nasal spray vaccine is an option for healthy people between the ages of 2 and 49 (except for pregnant women).
Risk of flu
- The flu shot is made with killed (inactivated) flu viruses, so there is no risk of getting the flu from it.
- The nasal spray vaccine is made from weakened (attenuated) viruses. Because they are so weak, they are unlikely to cause flu, but there is a small chance that they could.
- The flu shot may cause soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, a slight fever and aches.
- In children, the nasal spray vaccine may cause runny nose, headache, vomiting, wheezing, aches and a slight fever. In adults, it may cause runny nose, headache, sore throat and cough.
With both types of vaccine, serious side effects are very rare.
Who should not get the nasal spray vaccine?
The nasal spray vaccine is not recommended for:
- Adults older than 50 because it has not been proven effective in this age group
- Children younger than 2 years because of an increased risk of wheezing
- Children younger than 5 who have asthma or have had one or more episodes of wheezing in the past year
- People who have long-term health problems such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes or anemia
- Anyone who has a muscle or nerve disorder (such as cerebral palsy) that could cause breathing or swallowing problems
- Anyone who has a weakened immune system
- Children or teens on long-term aspirin therapy
- Pregnant women
Most people who can't use the nasal spray vaccine can get a flu shot instead.
The flu shot is also preferred for:
- People in close contact with anyone who has a severely weakened immune system
- Anyone who has a nasal condition that makes breathing difficult
Some people need to talk to their doctor before getting either type of vaccine. These include:
- People who have had a serious allergic reaction to eggs or to a previous dose of flu vaccine. The nasal spray vaccine also contains the following: MSG, arginine, gentamycin and gelatin.
- People who have a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), a severe paralytic illness.
- People who are ill. Unless it's only a mild illness, they may be advised to wait until they recover.
How can I decide if the nasal spray vaccine is right for me or my child?
Talk to your doctor. He or she can answers any questions you have and help you decide if the nasal spray vaccine is a good choice.
When should I get the vaccine?
The ideal time to get the flu vaccine is from September through November, before flu season starts. But it is still OK to get the flu vaccine anytime during the flu season. Protection develops about two weeks after you get vaccinated and may last up to a year.
Most people only need one dose of vaccine each year. Children younger than 9 who are getting the vaccine for the first time need two doses, given at least one month apart.