Flu Shot or Nasal Spray Vaccine: Which is Better?

Story by Terence Ellis and Zachary McCormic, Disease Epidemiology Program, U.S. Army Public Health Command

Photo: Capt. Jasmin Gregory, Reynolds Army Community Hospital public health nurse, administers a flu shot to retired Command Sgt. Maj. John Waddell, 90, of Mineral Wells, Texas, during the Fort Sill Retiree Appreciation Days open house Sept. 19, 2013, at the Rinehart Fitness Center. The open house was just one of the activities over three days to celebrate military retirees and their spouses. (U.S. Army photo by Jeff Crawley/Released)

Army Capt. Jasmin Gregory, Reynolds Army Community Hospital public health nurse, administers a flu shot to retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Waddell, 90, of Mineral Wells, Texas, during the Fort Sill Retiree Appreciation Days open house Sept. 19, 2013, at the Rinehart Fitness Center. The open house was just one of the activities over three days to celebrate military retirees and their spouses. (U.S. Army photo by Jeff Crawley/Released)

Each year, the influenza or ‘flu’ virus makes millions of people ill worldwide. Children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are at highest risk of developing flu-related complications that can lead to hospitalization or even death. The best way to prevent the flu is by receiving an annual influenza vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone over the age of six months get vaccinated against influenza.

There are two primary types of influenza vaccine: the flu shot and the nasal spray. The flu shot comes in several different forms that target a variety of age groups from six months and older. All forms of the flu shot contain inactivated or killed virus and are administered as an injection in the upper arm or in the thigh for infants. Your healthcare provider will determine which form is right for you based on age, allergies and health conditions.

The nasal spray vaccine, or the live, attenuated influenza vaccine, is commonly known by its trade name, FluMist, and offers protection to healthy adults from 2 to 49 years old who are not pregnant. FluMist contains a live but weakened flu virus that cannot cause flu illness.

Studies comparing the flu shot to the nasal vaccine have shown the shot or inactivated vaccine to be more effective in protecting against influenza A in healthy adults. Both vaccinations were more effective in preventing influenza than those receiving no vaccine. However, studies conducted in children have found the nasal spray or attenuated vaccine more effective in preventing influenza than the shot.

The influenza vaccination for the 2013-2014 influenza season protects against the strains of the virus influenza experts believe are most likely to circulate during this season.

Before any influenza cases develop, get the flu vaccine. It may take up to two weeks to develop complete protection against influenza after vaccination. Vaccination of people at high-risk for serious flu-related health complications and their close contacts is especially important. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if you fit this high-risk category or if you have any questions regarding which flu vaccine options are best for you and your family.

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