10/15/2015 08:37 EDT | Updated 10/15/2016 05:12 EDT

A Needle-Free Flu Vaccine?

Shutterstock / Cheryl Casey

The annual flu shot can be a dreaded battle for those with kids; tears and screaming as your little one is reminded of his/her last vaccine experience: a pointy needle and pain in the arm.

But for those looking to escape the crying, screaming and the anxiety, there is another option: a needle-free vaccine that is administered as a nasal spray, now available for free for Ontario children and youth aged 2 - 17.

The vaccine requires one small spray into each nostril, an approach that can be much less terrifying to children who have developed a needle phobia.

And here's the kicker: nasal spray flu vaccines have been found to be more effective in kids aged 2 - 6 than the traditional, intramuscular flu vaccine.

According to Andrea Goncz, primary care registered nurse with Sunnybrook's Academic Family Health Team, the nasal spray flu vaccine has been well-received by parents of young children.

"Parents don't have to go through yelling and screaming at the flu clinic... and it's such a tiny amount that the kids barely notice it. They giggle because I'm tickling their nose hairs," she says.

There are, however, a few differences between nasal spray flu vaccines and the traditional flu vaccine - mainly, the forms of flu virus each vaccine contains. The traditional flu vaccine contains dead flu virus, whereas the nasal spray flu vaccines contain weakened, live flu virus.

The weakened, live flu virus stimulates the immune system to create antibodies against the flu in the person receiving the vaccine. It's important to note that the live flu virus in nasal spray flu vaccines is so weak that it will not cause the virus in those receiving the vaccine.

But while the live vaccine won't cause the flu, it does place limitations on who is eligible to receive nasal spray flu vaccines.

Those who cannot receive nasal spray flu vaccines include: people with immune-compromising conditions, children with severe asthma, pregnant women, or people with egg allergies.

Nasal spray flu vaccines are available for use in people aged 2 - 59, but only shows higher efficacy than the traditional flu shot in children aged two to six.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends use of live vaccines, like nasal spray flu vaccines, "in healthy children and adolescents two to 17 years of age."

NACI also recommends use of live vaccines in healthy adults aged 18 - 59, but notes there is some inconsistent evidence that the traditional flu vaccine is more effective than nasal spray flu vaccines in people of this age group.

If you're considering a nasal spray flu vaccine, talk to your health care provider to determine whether you / your child is eligible.

The flu is not just a "bad cold." In fact, for those who are vulnerable, the flu can lead to complications, hospitalization and even death. Reduce your risk, and the risk of others, by getting your flu shot

By Jessica Lepore, Junior Digital Communications Specialist at Sunnybrook.

Read more health tips & information from Sunnybrook experts at


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