For parents who wince in empathy every time their child has to be vaccinated, news that a spray can be more effective than a shot in warding off flu in very young children is promising.
In the largest pediatric study comparing flu shots and flu spray, 8,000 children under age 5 were given either a shot or the nasal spray FluMist in 2004. Among the nearly 500 children who caught the flu, those who took the shots caught it twice as often. One researcher noted that although shots can enhance existing immunity, the spray is more effective in stimulating antibodies when there is no immunity.
While the research results were mostly encouraging for Maryland-based MedImmune, which makes FluMist and paid for the study, there's no reason to abandon flu shots. Previous studies have linked the spray to wheezing problems among children under 5, and even the most recent study found that some of the youngest children who were given the spray were hospitalized more frequently, although often for ailments that were presumably unrelated to flu.
Still, the Food and Drug Administration, which has approved FluMist for people ages 5 to 49, should study the data thoroughly and move cautiously before allowing toddlers to trade a sore arm for a misty nose.