The sales drive is on!

The drive to get people to line up for flu shots, that is. But this year there’s a little twist.

In “Nose Candy” (7/8/03), I told you about a brand new way to get the flu vaccine: A squirt up the nose. FluMist is the name of this new delivery system. The idea, of course, is to provide a pain-free alternative to a needle in the arm.

But before you call your doctor to schedule a snort of FluMist, there are a few things you need to know.

  1. It’s expensive. At $46 per dose, it’s more than twice as expensive as a normal flu shot.
  2. Your insurance might not cover it because a typical flu shot usually costs only $15 – $20.
  3. Kids aged 5-8 years (the very age group that hates needles the most) are advised to get two doses of FluMist to be effective. Total cost: Over $90 (not counting the cost of the doctor visits).
  4. The FDA hasn’t approved FluMist for kids under 5 years of age because trials have shown it increases the risk of asthma attacks for that age group.
  5. The FDA hasn’t approved FluMist for adults over 50 because trials have shown it’s neither safe nor effective for that age group.
  6. For people between 5 and 50, typical side effects of FluMist include sore throat, coughing, nasal congestion, and runny nose. (So FluMist may prevent the flu, but you might feel like you have it anyway.)
  7. Clinical trials show that it’s only effective in half the people who take it.
  8. Unlike traditional flu vaccines (which use dead flu viruses), FluMist will contain three live flu viruses. That’s right: 3 strains of living flu virus squirted directly into your head. But don’t worry. The viruses have been “modified” so they won’t grow at body temperature. That’s how manufacturers (MedImmune/Wyeth) described the process last summer. Now they’re describing the viruses as being “killed.” Whatever!
  9. (I saved the best for last) FluMist should only be taken by healthy people because people with compromised immune systems may have negative reactions. In other words, those people who need a vaccine the LEAST (healthy people with uncompromised immune systems) are the only ones the vaccine has been approved for.

Nine strikes andyer OUT!

Can you imagine if an herbal product was introduced to the market with all those drawbacks? The mainstream medical press would be in an uproar!

Meanwhile, as I said, the sales drive for FluMist (and the flu vaccine in general) is in full gear. According to a report from KABC in Los Angeles, the World Health Organization (WHO) is urging people to get vaccinations because they fear a possible winter return of the SARS virus. WHO officials admit that the flu shot won’t prevent SARS. But they reason that that keeping the cases of flu low will decrease the chance that doctors might mistake a case of flu for SARS. That seems like paper-thin logic to me, but if it’s the best you’ve got, I guess you have to go with it.

A little more fear is added to the flu vaccine sales pitch by Dr. William Schaffner, an official with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Noting that the last two flu seasons have been mild, Dr. Schaffner warns that it would be “very unusual to have three mild seasons in a row.” Dr. S. is a big fan of the flu shot. He told KABC that he hopes in 10 years “we are recommending annual influenza immunization for everybody.”

Contrast that statement with this e-mail I received from an HSI member named Leo last week:

“Just want you to know that my wife and I took the flu shot in Nov. 02. She had a very bad reaction to the shot. Called the doctor and they told me, ‘There’s nothing we can do for that.’ Great, they can make it but if you get sick you must stay alive for 5 to 6 months so the body can get rid of it. She was a very sick person. We will never take another flu shot.”

Ten strikes andyer OUT!

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute

“Doctors Say Pain-Free FluMist Vaccine Not Best For Everyone” Associated Press, 12/17/02,
“Spray Vaccine for Flu Wins FDA Clearance” Washington Post, 6/17/03,
“Nasal Mist Flu Vaccine Approved” Michael Smith, M.D., WebMD,
“Beat the Flu This Year With Nasal Spray” KABC Los Angeles, 9/24/03,