New Research Could Widen Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine Age

The current nasal spray flu vaccine on the market is not approved for all age groups – so what's another option for those excluded individuals besides the flu shot? Researchers may have found a way to broaden the range on the nasal spray.

The current nasal spray flu vaccine on the market is not approved for all age groups — so what’s another option for those excluded individuals besides the flu shot? Researchers may have found a way to broaden the range on the nasal spray.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that everyone older than six months receive an annual flu shot. The nasal spray vaccine is an alternative that is approved for those ages 2 to 49. It is even believed to protect children ages 2 to 8 against the flu even better than the shot. However, individuals that do not fall between the approved age range miss out on the protective method.

Lead author Andrew Pekosz, PhD, and colleagues from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health believe that they have found a way to make the nasal spray vaccine available for people under the age of 2 and over the age of 49.

“We don’t have a really good effective vaccine in the elderly. Even the injectable version doesn’t work as well in that population. And they’re the ones who need it the most,” Pekosz, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a news release.

Using human nasal tract cells, the team studied the flu virus used in the nasal spray vaccine compared to the actual flu virus, as described in the Vaccine report. At the end of a weakened virus’ life cycle, the cells send out non-infectious particles which immune cells attack to create protection against the flu. However, the researchers found that this is not as strong of a response as expected.

Previous research suggested that only five of the nine virus mutations used to create the weakened flu strain in the nasal spray vaccine were important to immune responses. Therefore, altering the vaccine with those mutations in mind could lead to protection for more age groups. The virus needs to be weakened for children and strengthened for older adults.

“We think we can use our molecular, rational design approaches to make a better flu vaccine for people who really need it,” Pekosz continued. “We can do it in a sophisticated and accurate way, not in a blind manner, which is how these vaccines are usually developed.”

The team is currently working with the makers of the nasal spray vaccine FluMist, MedImmune, to create a better vaccine for the older and younger patients. If all goes according to plan, Pekosz explained that the new vaccine could be ready to test within six to 12 months.

“We hope our research can get us closer to having effective flu vaccines for any age,” Pekosz concluded.