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What Exactly Is an Inhalable Vaccine, and How Can I Get One?

Even if you hate flu shots, you have no excuse this year

Getting stabbed in your arm muscle sucks, even if it is a vital part of public health. Vaccines and shots are essentially synonymous, as there are tons of immunizations that are still best delivered via needle. That said, inhalable vaccines, delivered via a squirt up your nose, are increasingly becoming a thing, especially for the flu. In fact, the CDC states they have no real preference between the flu shot or the nasal spray, known as the Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine. 

So, what exactly is an inhalable vaccine, and how do you get one?

Both the nasal spray and most flu shots are egg-based, made from actual chicken eggs in which the virus is injected and then incubated. While the shot contains an inactivated form of the flu virus, the nasal spray contains a weakened form. Both are generally considered to be safe for people with egg allergies, and neither form of the virus will get you sick.

Nevertheless, the flu shot is considered safe for a wider portion of the population than the spray. The CDC recommends that everyone older than six months who doesn’t have a severe allergy to the flu vaccine receive it, but that the spray is only recommended for people between two and 50 years old who aren’t pregnant, aren’t immunocompromised and aren’t in close contact with people who are severely immunocompromised. Even people with asthma are supposed to discuss whether the nasal spray is safe with their doctor. The shot, though? It’s safe to jab that into just about anyone. 

Part of this has to do with the fact that only one company produces the nasal spray, and partly because trials on particular groups remain limited. Further, the flu changes year after year, meaning vaccines must change with it. In the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 flu seasons, the nasal spray was found to be less effective than the shot, and the CDC didn’t recommend them during those years. Though the CDC may now approve of them for this year, their prior ineffectiveness may have hindered supply and demand — basically, give all of the above, it often makes more sense for places like pharmacies to exclusively carry the shot. 

However, if you really prefer the spray, you can contact your doctor about it, or look up its availability on the manufacturer’s website. Pediatricians are more likely to carry it, since, you know, kids are more likely to freak out at the thought of a shot. 

As for where other nasal vaccines like one for COVID might be, we’re just not there yet. It’s certainly a possibility, and some trials and prototypes are in the works, but it’s still too early to know if they’ll be an option. For now though, whether it’s in shot or spray form, please please please get your flu vaccine.