Intranasal Flu Vaccine Still Available

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Although supplies of the standard flu vaccine have run out in the Rim country, the intranasal vaccine is still available.

The Apothecary Shop in Sawmill Crossing is administering the intranasal vaccine to healthy individuals between the ages of 17 and 49 and to individuals in other age groups who have a prescription from their doctors.

"Anybody under 12 and over 49 requires a prescription," Craig Matthews, Apothecary Shop pharmacist and manager, said. "Children under 12 have to be administered by a doctor, but we will administer the vaccine to everyone 12 and over.

Unlike the inactive or "killed" vaccine used in flu shots, the intranasal vaccine, whose trade name is FluMist, is a live virus vaccine that is sprayed into the nostrils rather than injected into the muscle. The Food & Drug Administration licensed it in June, 2003 for use in healthy individuals between the ages of 5 and 49.

"It is a live virus, but it cannot grow at normal body temperature," Dr. Karen Lewis, the Arizona Department of Health Service's Emergency Preparedness Medical Coordinator said. "It won't go into the lungs and cause pneumonia or bronchitis. It stays in the nose."

Lewis also said the risk of spreading the milder version of the influenza virus contracted by the spray is very low.

Supplies of the intranasal vaccine are not expected to run out. MedImmune, the Gaithersburg, Md. biotech company that manufactures the drug, says it has four million doses ready and waiting. MedImmune also claims the intranasal vaccine appears to offer better protection from this year's virulent Fujian flu strain than the other vaccines.

The intranasal vaccine can cause mild symptoms, including runny nose or nasal congestion, fever, headache and muscle aches. It is not recommended for pregnant women or those with asthma; chronic lung or heart disease; chronic underlying medical conditions such as diabetes or kidney disorders; immune suppression or immune system problems; children or adolescents receiving aspirin therapy; anyone allergic to eggs; or those with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

While flu vaccines are usually administered in October or November, the flu season usually doesn't peak until sometime in January through March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Therefore getting the vaccine in December, or even later, can be beneficial most years.

"The best time to get the vaccine is in November," Dr. Judith Hunt said. "That way, you have protection by the time relatives come from the east during the holidays and it will last until the end of February."

"People need to get an influenza vaccine shot every year," Lewis said. "It takes a year such as this to understand that it can be a very serious disease. It kills 36,000 people a year. It's very important to get the vaccine."

Matthews agrees.

"I would absolutely recommend it," he said, "especially given the shortage of the other vaccine right now and how early the virus has started to spread this year and just the severity of it. It's a good idea even for healthy people. It just doesn't make sense not to this year."

Because it's storage-sensitive, the Payson Apothecary Shop needs one day to get the vaccine. "We don't have the appropriate freezer for it, but our stores in the Valley stock it and we can have it up here the next day," Matthews said. "People should call us to request it, then they can come in and get it the next day."

"When it arrives here in town, it has to be given that same day," Hunt said. "We've found that most major health plans are paying for it this year and normally they don't. They recognize that it's cheaper to pay for the vaccine than for someone to be in the hospital."

The intranasal vaccine costs $65, but comes with a $25 mail-in rebate. The Payson Apothecary Shop's phone number is (928) 468-8299. The intranasal vaccine is also available at the Apothecary Shop in Scottsdale, (480) 538-0699.

For more information, call the Centers for Disease Control at 1-800-232-2522 (English) or 1-800-232-0233 (Espanol) or visit www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/flu/fluvirus.htm.

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