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October 25, 2023

An at-home flu vaccine may be available in the U.S. by next fall

FluMist, a nasal spray that provides protection against influenza, has been used since 2003, but a health care provider must administer it. Soon, people may be able to give it to themselves

An at-home influenza vaccine may be available in the U.S. by next fall, and it could be an ideal option for people who prefer to avoid needles.

The pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve its FluMist flu vaccine, a nasal spray, so that people can give it to themselves or to their children. If approved — which could happen early next year — FluMist will be the first flu vaccine that people can give to themselves at home.

FluMist has been available in the U.S. since 2003 to people ages 2-49, but it currently must be administered by a health care provider. A study confirmed that people over 18 can effectively self-administer the vaccine when given instructions, according to AstraZeneca.

Seasonal influenza, an acute respiratory infection, causes symptoms like fever, sore throat, headache and runny nose, and can spread easily between people when they cough or sneeze. On average, 8% of the U.S. population gets sick from the flu each season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The best way to prevent the ailment is through vaccination, which doctors recommend getting sometime in September or October.

The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every season, but only about half of Americans get the annual shot. Medical professionals hope a self-administered option could bolster these numbers and protect more people from illness.

"Vaccination rates for children and adults under 50 years of age declined in the 2022-2023 flu season, highlighting a need for more accessible solutions," said Dr. Ravi Jhaveri, division head and professor in infectious disease at Northwestern University School of Medicine. "The ability for individuals and parents to choose where to administer an injection-free flu vaccine could help increase access and, subsequently, vaccination rates, and greatly benefit those most impacted by this serious and contagious respiratory illness."

If approved, FluMist would be available for at-home use for people between 18 and 49, or to be administered by caregivers to children under 18. People would order the vaccine through an online pharmacy system; it would be shipped to their homes in temperature-controlled packaging, CNN reported. The online ordering system would provide a way to ensure the nasal spray isn't taken by patients who are not eligible, such as people with weakened immune systems.

FluMist uses a live, weakened version of the influenza virus to provide protection, while injectable versions use different methods like killing the virus or training the immune system. But "extensive data" has shown that FluMist provides a comparable effectiveness to other vaccines. Side effects are similar between the nasal spray and flu shots, but side effects specific to FluMist could include runny nose and nasal congestion, according to Prevention.

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