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Alternatives to the Flu Shot

2007-2008 Flu Season Update


Updated September 26, 2007

The flu shot shortages and delays of the last few years have led many parents to look for alternatives to a flu shot to protect their kids from the flu. Even when there isn't a shortage of flu shots, there are going to be some parents who simply don't want their kids to get a flu shot. And there are others who can't get a shot, like if they have an allergy to eggs. These tips may help you keep your kids safe from the flu even if they can't get a flu shot.

Flu Shot Alternatives

One alternative to a flu shot is to get FluMist, the nasal spray flu vaccine which is often in good supply even when there are shortages of flu shots. There are some limitations though, including that it can only be given to healthy people from the ages of 2 to 49 years, so that leaves out younger children, the elderly and others at high risk for flu complications. It also can be more expensive than a flu shot and not all insurance companies pay for it, so check with your insurance company and doctor to see if FluMist is a good alternative for you. The price was reduced in recent years, so it may be more affordable for more families.

Since FluMist is thimerosal free, it is also a good alternative for parents who were avoiding getting a flu shot because of worries over its having thimerosal. It still shouldn't be given to kids with egg allergies though.

Antiviral Drugs

In addition to flu immunizations, antiviral drugs can also be used to prevent the flu. These medications include:
  • amantadine (Symmetrel)
  • rimantadine (Flumadine)
  • oseltamivir (Tamiflu)
According to the CDC, amantadine and rimantadine shouldn't be used anymore though, because flu viruses have built up too much resistance to these drugs.

Other people may just want to take them after being exposed to someone with the flu. For example, if one of your kids is diagnosed with the flu, it might be worthwhile to get a prescription for one of the antiviral drugs for all other household members who didn't get a flu immunization so that they don't catch it too.

Tamiflu and another medication called zanamivir (Relenza), can also be used as a treatment for the flu to 'shorten the time a person infected with influenza feels ill' if they are started within 1-2 days of your becoming sick.

Avoiding the Flu

The last alternative, which isn't always practical, is simply trying to avoid people who are sick with the flu. Or at least try and get everyone around you or your child to get vaccinated against the flu. See our guide to Avoiding Getting Sick with the Flu for more information.


Prevention & Control of Influenza - Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR 2007 Jul 13;56(RR06):1-54

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