What Is Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 17, 2022
2 min read

You may hear it called by its brand name, FluMist. Unlike the flu shot, there are no needles involved. That’s a good thing, especially to parents whose kids can’t stand the sight of needles.

While the normal flu shot you’d get in your arm is made from killed flu viruses, the spray is made from weakened live viruses. It reproduces inside your nose and creates germs that your immune system learns to attack. 

It’s for healthy people ages 2 to 49 who aren’t pregnant, who are not allergic to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients, and who don’t have weak immune systems.  Check with your doctor to make sure it’s right for you.

The spray causes your immune system to make proteins in your blood and in your nose that help you fight the virus. Your nose is where the flu virus normally enters your body.

A doctor will spray the vaccine into your nostrils with a small syringe that has no needle. It takes about 2 weeks for it to start to work, so you should get it anytime starting in October to the spring.

No. The CDC says it’s OK to get it if you’re healthy, between the ages 2 to 49, and not pregnant. Adults should get one dose of the vaccine per year. Kids 2 to 9 who are getting their first flu vaccine will need a second dose 4 weeks later. The first isn't enough to prevent the flu -- two doses will. Every year after that, your child will need only one dose.

These people should not get nasal spray vaccine:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children under 2 years old
  • Adults 50 or older
  • Children under 5 who wheeze or have asthma
  • Children or teens who take aspirin
  • Anyone with allergies to the flu vaccine of any of its ingredients
  • People with chronic heart or lung disease, like asthma or restrictive airways disease
  • Those who have diabetes or kidney failure
  • Anyone with a weakened immune system
  • People who’ve had Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare nervous system problem, within 6 weeks of getting a flu vaccine

Yes. Kids might get a runny nose, headache, wheezing, vomiting, muscle aches, and a fever. Adults could have a runny nose, headache, sore throat, and cough. But grownups don’t usually have a fever. Just like the shot, the spray will not cause the flu.

Yes. Flu viruses change over time. So the vaccine that worked last year may not work this year.