No More Flu Mist and Tips to Ease Your Child's Fear of Shots

So Long, FluMist®? The sigh of relief parents had in the past during flu season because of the nasal spray alternative to a shot has turned instead to a collective wince for the upcoming season.

While the nasal spray (marketed under the name FluMist®) accounted for more than a third of all influenza vaccines given to children last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics has joined with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in recommending against the nasal spray vaccine this flu season.

Why the Change?
In any given flu season, vaccine effectiveness varies, with the main factor being how well the vaccines match the virus that is actually prevalent. When vaccines are well matched, studies show that they can reduce the risk of flu by 50 to 60 percent. According to the CDC, FluMist® did not protect against certain strains of the flu that were most prominent the past three seasons. In fact, the nasal vaccine's effectiveness among children 2-17 was only 3 percent last year, while the injected vaccine had an effectiveness rate of 63 percent.

Influenza strikes the very young and the elderly the hardest—blamed for as many as 5,000 deaths each year in the United States. That fact alone helps us understand that the recommendation to vaccinate children against the flu remains as strong and clear as it has been in previous years—still the best available preventive measure against flu.

“All children ages six months and older should be vaccinated to protect against the flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season,” says Jeremy Warhaftig, MD, pediatrician at South Shore Medical Center. “Vaccines are constantly being evaluated for safety and effectiveness and the nasal spray is no longer recommended because it was not working as expected.”

While not having the option of a vaccine delivered nasally (and painlessly) is disappointing to some, families ultimately want their children and themselves protected against influenza.

“Though some children may balk at the idea of an injection, opting out would be a mistake,” noted Gina Boutwell, MD, pediatrician at South Shore Medical Center. "We believe that patients who would like to prevent the flu will use whatever option is available."

The Good News
Realizing that no child likes getting a shot, here are some recommendations from the pediatricians at South Shore Medical Center to ease your child’s fear of shots:

  • Tell the Truth. Don’t say the shot won't hurt because kids will learn you are lying and you can lose their trust. While the injectable vaccine comes with a very small needle, so it undeniably “hurts,” it is truly more like a pinch to their upper arm. Also, make sure they know that the shot is something that protects them from something that is far worse than a pinch.
  • Know the Right Timing. Some children do better with little or no anticipatory information regarding the shots. You know your child best, so decide the appropriate amount of time in advance to announce a trip for the flu shot.
  • Consider a Reward. Sometimes even a small incentive (like a lollipop or a sticker) can help ease the pain. A treat gives your child something to look forward to while also acknowledging their bravery in a positive way.
  • Provide Immediate Relief. After a vaccination, have your child remain seated or rest in your lap for a few minutes to make sure they don’t get light-headed, then rub the injection site if it's sore and decrease any swelling by applying an ice pack for about 10 minutes.
  • Empower Your Child. Reassure them that as they grow they will continue to become better able to tolerate injections. This sense of empowerment can help them overcome not only the shots but other everyday hurdles of life.

Learn more about Primary Care at South Shore Health.