Alternatives to the Flu Shot

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Nasal influenza vaccine on a medical tray.

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Flu shot shortages and delays once led parents to look for alternatives to a flu shot to protect their kids from the flu. Even when there isn't a shortage of flu shots, there are going to be some parents who simply don't want their kids to get a flu shot. And there are others who couldn't get a shot, like if they have an allergy to eggs.

Fortunately, a plentiful supply of flu vaccine in recent years and even updated guidelines for kids with egg allergies have allowed more and more kids to get vaccinated and protected from the flu.

These tips may help you keep your kids safe from the flu if they still can't get a flu shot.

Nasal Spray

One alternative to a flu shot is to use a nasal spray flu vaccine called FluMist. First approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration in 2003, FluMist is a live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) sprayed into the nose to prevent influenza subtype A viruses and type B viruses.

It is approved for use in healthy people ages of 2 to 49 years and is the preferred flu vaccine for healthy children between the ages of 2 and 8 years. It should not be used in people who have had a severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine, including egg protein, or after a previous dose of any influenza vaccine. 

The most common side effects are a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, and fever over 100°F.

As of 2018, FluMist Quadrivalent is the preferred flu vaccine for children. However, between 2013 and 2016, FluMist was not recommended due to concerns over its effectiveness.

FluMist Quadrivalent contains four vaccine virus strains: an A/H1N1 strain, an A/H3N2 strain, and two B strains.

Each flu season, vaccine manufacturers update the specific strains in the formula based on worldwide patterns of flu strains. The 2019 version contains B strains from both the B/Yamagata/16/88 and the B/Victoria/2/87 lineages. 

Jet Injector

For children who are younger than age 2 or have health concerns that prevent them from using FluMist, ask your health care provider about less painful options, such as a jet injector.

A jet injector is a needle-free device that delivers the vaccine through a high-powered, concentrated jet that can penetrate the skin and can reach the blood without the invasiveness of a physical needle.

It lasts about one-tenth of a second and may still cause some pain. The cost, however, is much higher than your traditional needle and syringe.

Less Painful Shots

If your child has difficulty with needles, ask your pediatrician about using a numbing cream prior to getting vaccinations. It may not take away the pain completely, but it should make it more tolerable.

You can buy a 4-percent lidocaine cream over the counter at most drug stores or online.

Apply a nickel-sized amount of lidocaine to the skin over the area of the anticipated needle poke about 30 minutes to 60 minutes prior to the injection, then gently wrap the area with plastic wrap to hold it in place.

Lidocaine should not be used on injured or unhealthy skin without talking to your doctor and do not leave it on for more than two hours.

Avoiding the Flu

In addition to getting vaccinated against the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using everyday hygiene practices to prevent getting the flu, including:

  • avoid contact with people who may be sick with the flu
  • wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth to prevent the spread of germs
  • clean and disinfect surfaces, including your computer keyboard, phone, tabletops, counters, and doorknobs.

If you do get the flu, the CDC recommends avoiding contact with other people and taking antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.

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