ATLANTA -- When it comes to flu vaccines, a federal panel says a squirt in the nose is better than a shot in the arm for young children.
The advisory panel voted to advise doctors that FluMist nasal spray is a bit better at preventing flu in healthy young kids. The recommendation is specific to ages 2 through 8 only.
Some studies have found that kids within that age group are about half as likely to get the flu if they had the spray vaccine instead of a shot.
Federal health officials usually adopt the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. A flu vaccine is now recommended for virtually everyone over 6 months old.
AstraZeneca's FluMist is the only spray vaccine on the market. It was first licensed in 2003 and is approved for healthy people ages 2 to 49. Unlike flu shots made from a killed virus, it is made from a live but weakened flu virus.
Experts say the spray prompts a better immune response in children who may have never been infected with flu before, but there isn't a clear difference in adults.
The nation's largest pediatrician's group, however, objected to giving preference to the spray for kids. A representative of the American Academy of Pediatrics noted FluMist is more expensive, it can't be used for everyone and doctors have already ordered their vaccine doses for the fall flu season.
Dr. Michael Brady of Ohio State University also said the vote hinged on studies that were done before flu vaccine was encouraged for most children and vaccination rates were much lower. It's possible fresher data might not show such a difference, he said.
"We really feel you shouldn't place (doctors) and families in a situation where if they don't receive the live vaccine, they feel they're getting an inferior product. Because it may not be an inferior product," he said.
Health officials stressed that if doctors don't have FluMist in stock, flu shots are perfectly fine -- both work. FluMist costs about $23; shots range from about $8 to $22.
Of children ages 2 to 17 who get a flu vaccine, 44 percent get FluMist, according to AstraZeneca. The company decided to make more for the coming flu season -- 18 million doses, up from 13 million last year -- partly in anticipation of the panel's vote, said Kathleen Coelingh, senior director of U.S. medical affairs.