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Deemed ineffective, FluMist is nixed in favor of vaccines

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Flu shots at the state fair
Flu shots will be the only way to get protection this season, as FluMist has been deemed ineffective.
Courtney Perry for MPR News | 2015 file

U.S. flu manufacturers estimate they will ship almost 176 million doses of influenza vaccine this season. The first doses have already been sent to some states. 

However, the popular nasal mist formulation will not be in the mix. 

In June, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control advisory board discouraged health providers from using FluMist this year. The recommendation is based on government data that shows the nasal mist offered poor or no protection against flu in recent seasons.  

AstraZeneca, which makes FluMist, said its own research and flu studies conducted in other countries did not show a problem with the nasal vaccine.

Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious diseases for the Minnesota Department of Health, says the nasal spray is a popular choice among kids and people who are afraid of needles. If effectiveness problems are fixed, she says the vaccine could return in the future.

"The concerns with the vaccine had nothing to do with its safety; simply to do with the fact that in the last couple of seasons the effectiveness of that vaccine was not what we'd like to see," Ehresmann said. 

People who prefer the nasal mist over a shot may be more hesitant to get vaccinated this year, but she hopes they will do it anyway.

"Influenza remains a dangerous disease and it can be dangerous even for people who are otherwise healthy," Ehresmann said. "We're getting vaccinated not just to protect ourselves but also to protect our community and the people around us who may be at much higher risk of complications from flu than we are."

Those at a higher risk of flu complications include seniors over age 65, young children, pregnant women, and people with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease. 

Flu complications can be severe enough to require hospitalization. In Minnesota, more than 1,500 people were hospitalized for flu last season. Three children died.

Health officials recommend that everyone six months of age and older get an annual flu vaccination. For best protection, health officials say people should get vaccinations in early fall before the flu season starts. But, you can get them at any time throughout the season which typically lasts from October to April.