Many Americans rely on information provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — which is supposed to be the nation’s leading health protection agency — to make important health decisions.
So when the agency suddenly flip-flops on a key health message, it’s not only disconcerting but also dangerous.
For years the CDC has been making general and often misleading categorical statements that in order to stay healthy during the flu season, “the most important thing is for all people 6 months and older to get a flu vaccine every year.”1
Although this is stated as fact, it’s easily debatable, as a strong immune system — the result of leading a healthy lifestyle — is actually among your best defenses against getting sick or experiencing complications from viral infections like influenza.
Taking a closer look at the CDC’s authoritative message to Americans, public health officials have also stated, as recently as the 2015 to 2016 flu season, that “both the nasal spray vaccine and the flu shot have been shown to be effective in children and adults.2
You’d be wise to take such statements with a grain of salt, as now a CDC advisory committee has recommended the widely used nasal spray influenza vaccine not be used during the upcoming flu season.3
CDC Reverses Their Advice, Says No to Nasal Flu Vaccine for 2016 to 2017 Flu Season
About one-third of flu vaccinations given to children in the U.S. are the nasal spray, which is often preferred by pediatricians because it’s needle-free.
In recent years, both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) went so far as to say the live virus nasal spray version was the preferred vaccine for healthy children ages 2 to 8 because research showed it worked a little better for them than the inactivated injected vaccine.
Children were given two doses to inhale initially, so theoretically, they could quickly build immunity.4 But it turned out the nasal spray flu vaccine was a bigger failure than injectable flu shots. During the 2014 to 2015 flu season, for instance, the nasal spray flu vaccine showed potentially no benefit for young children.5
Despite the failure, during the 2015 to 2016 flu season the CDC again stated that the nasal spray vaccine was effective in children and adults, and that “either vaccine is appropriate” (referring to either the nasal spray or inactivated flu shot) for people aged 2 through 49 years.6
This is in direct contrast to this year’s advice, with the CDC panel now recommending against the nasal spray vaccine (brand name FluMist). The decision, which still has to be approved by CDC Director Tom Frieden, was based on recent data showing continued poor performance. As CNN reported:7
“During the [CDC advisory committee] hearing, Dr. Chris Ambrose of MedImmune [FluMist’s maker] shared results from the company’s 2015 to 2016 influenza vaccine effectiveness study, which found the FluMist quadrivalent vaccine to be 46 percent effective, compared with the flu shot’s 65 percent effectiveness.
However, Dr. Brendan Flannery of the CDC presented data indicating that FluMist had zero effectiveness against one strain of flu.”