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Panel recommends flu vaccine nasal spray for children as young as 2, citing safety

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    ATLANTA — Children as young as 2 can be given a nasal spray flu vaccine, a federal advisory panel said Wednesday.
    Government advice now recommends only traditional shots for children younger than 5. But recent studies have shown the vaccine FluMist, made by Maryland-based MedImmune Inc., to be safe and effective in kids as young as 2.
    FluMist was initially approved in 2003 for use in healthy people ages 5 to 49. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month approved its use for the 2 to 5 age group as well.
    Now, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises government health officials, is recommending FluMist’s use for kids in the 2 to 5 age bracket. Committee members said Wednesday that children with a history of asthma or wheezing should opt for a shot.
    Recommendations by the panel usually are accepted by U.S. health officials, and they influence insurance companies’ decisions on vaccination coverage.
    The committee didn’t recommend FluMist over flu shots, merely making it an option for young children who may dread a shot with a needle. Flu shots are still recommended for children ages 6 months to 5 years and those 50 and over as well as other groups at risk for flu complications.
    The committee also voted that a government program that pays for vaccines extend its FluMist coverage to the younger age group, meaning more than 5 million children will now be eligible for free FluMist. That includes children eligible for Medicaid, members of Native American and Alaska Native groups, and some children who don’t have insurance that covers the vaccination.
    ‘‘This is a significant step forward in our vision to have a significant impact on influenza disease in all age groups,’’ said Frank Malinoski, MedImmune’s senior vice president for medical and scientific affairs.
    MedImmune is a wholly owned subsidiary of London-based AstraZeneca PLC. The company had $36 million in FluMist sales last year, and has made about 4.5 million doses for the current flu season, a company spokeswoman said.
    A dose of FluMist costs about $18, roughly the cost of a flu shot. One dose is recommended annually, but if it’s the first time a young child was ever vaccinated against flu, two doses should be given, spaced at least a month apart.
    The committee also discussed a proposal to recommend flu vaccinations for all school-age children.
    Health officials believe vaccinating more children would reduce the spread of flu in general as well as protecting the students themselves. But experts say they’re concerned about the strain on pediatricians and schools if they tried to give annual flu shots to so many children.
    The discussion was tabled until the committee’s next meeting in February.
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