Originally created 09/30/03

Nasal flu vaccine aimed at erasing needle's sting



For some people, the only thing worse than getting the flu is getting the flu shot.

"Some folks are scared of the needle," said Douglas Nesbit, an Augusta pediatrician, who understands how the prick of prevention often scares patients away.

"They don't want to do that, and so they will not get flu shot," he said.

His patients aren't alone in their fear.

"Thirty percent of people who don't get the flu vaccine don't get it because they are afraid of needles," said Jamie Lacey, the associate director of public relations for MedImmune, the company that will launch FluMist nasal spray, a no-shot flu vaccine, this flu season.

Available by prescription only, FluMist is approved for healthy people between the ages of 5 and 49.

Dr. Nesbit will have the ouchless vaccine in his office on Augusta West Parkway as an alternative for those who would normally not get vaccinated.

"It's just an option," he said.

The office also will provide the regular flu shot for those who do not meet the requirements for FluMist.

"We'll vaccinate a few more people with it. After last year's flu, I think there will be more people interested."

Dr. Nesbit said even he is going to take FluMist this season.

The nasal vaccine could prove a worthwhile option, said Dennis Murray, the chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the Medical College of Georgia.

"The (nasal) vaccine is equal to injectable," in terms of what viruses it protects against, but it has its advantages, Dr. Murray said. Because FluMist contains the live influenza virus modified to live in the nose, it could be a greater source of protection.

"It will probably be a little more effective," he said. "This will not only put antibody in blood but in the respiratory system, so you're better off."

The nasal vaccine isn't a cure-all, though.

"This is a live virus," he said, and people with asthma, heart disease, diabetes or other chronic diseases wouldn't be able to get the pain-free inoculation.

"I don't want to discourage people from getting it, but it's only for healthy people," Dr. Murray said.

With 17 to 50 million cases of flu reported each year, resulting in 70 million missed work days and about 30 million missed school days, vaccination among healthy people should be stressed, Ms. Lacey said.

"The problem in the past is that healthy people thought the vaccine was only for those at high risk," she said, but "everyone can benefit from being vaccinated."

The call already is being made for high-risk patients such as children between 6 months and 23 months, asthmatics and those older than 50 to get vaccinated.

Yet, as attractive as the painless factor is, the price factor smarts.

"It'll probably be about five times the injectable price," Dr. Murray said.

That puts FluMist at $60 or more and makes it questionable whether the spray will be covered under most insurance.

Dr. Nesbit said the cost will be about $35 more at his practice, raising a significant dilemma.

"Medicaid doesn't cover it, some insurance plans won't cover it," he said. "Do you take a needle in the arm or do you shell out the money?"

Amy Bedenbaugh doesn't have an answer yet, though she already is thinking of getting flu shots for her daughters, Stephanie, 9, and Meg, 10.

"I'd take the nasal spray," she said, because although the thought of needles doesn't bother her, she knows it's a concern for her daughters.

"If it were available and inexpensive, I'll definitely get it," she said, considering the price. "But we may get the regular one."

To find where FluMist is available, check the Web site: www.flumist.com.

Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or kamille.bostick@augustachronicle.com.