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Two WNY insurers won't cover FluMist spray

You’re more likely to have to roll up your sleeve to get a flu vaccine this year.

Independent Health and Univera Healthcare have joined insurers across the country that will not cover the FluMist influenza nasal spray following a CDC report questioning its effectiveness.

“Our decision was based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recent recommendation that live attenuated influenza vaccine should not be used during the 2016-2017 flu season,” Univera spokesman Peter Kates said.

The CDC announced in June that data about nasal spray delivery showed “poor or relatively lower effectiveness” from 2013 through 2016 – numbers that help explain the overall flu vaccine effectiveness rates for those years.

Last year’s flu vaccine reduced the risk of contracting the flu by nearly 50 percent, according to the CDC, and was about twice as effective than the vaccine for the previous flu season.

The challenge is that there are several strains of flu virus – which can mutate – and health officials determine what dead flu viruses go into the vaccines to help build immunity. Those officials have to make educated guesses about which strains are likely to strike most often.

Some benefit more from the vaccine than others. A 2014 study showed the influenza vaccine reduced child risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit admission by 74 percent during flu seasons from 2010 to 2012, and another study on last year’s vaccine showed that those age 50 and older cut their risk of getting hospitalized from flu by 57 percent, the CDC reported.

“You look at the risks and benefits,” Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein said.

There’s also the benefit of helping protect those around you.

“There is that herd mentality which only works if the majority of people get vaccinated,” said Klara Manning, a pharmacist with Lifetime Health in Amherst. “Every person that you come in contact with is protected because you protected yourself. You’re protecting the newborn child who cannot be vaccinated. You never know who you might transmit the virus to. It could be your 90-year-old grandmother, or your friend who has asthma or COPD and is much more susceptible to complications from the flu”

The CDC continues to recommend that all Americans over 6 months old receive an inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) or recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV). Both are administered in shot form.

“Shots haven’t gotten less painful – there’s still a needle involved – but if you have a pharmacist or a nurse who is familiar with administering a vaccine, there’s a technique that we use to reduce that initial impact,” Manning said. She recommended parents who take children for the flu and other vaccinations do their best to treat them as routine.

Despite concerns over effectiveness, BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York will continue to cover the cost of the nasal spray, which remains FDA approved, said Kyle Rogers, corporate relations manager, “though we advise our members to speak with their primary care physician or specialist to determine what vaccination option is the most effective for their medical needs.”

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