CDC committee recommends AZ's FluMist over flu shot in children

AstraZeneca's ($AZN) flu vaccine sales may get a lift, courtesy of federal regulators, which recommended Wednesday that healthy children 2 to 8 years old receive the company's nasal spray flu vaccine FluMist in lieu of flu shots when available.

The Centers for Disease Control and Preventions' Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) made the unanimous vote based on data that suggest the nasal spray can provide better protection than the flu shot in this age group.

The endorsement could translate into a boost in sales for AstraZeneca, whose MedImmune unit makes the only intranasal quadrivalent flu vaccine, marketed in the U.S. as FluMist and Fluenz Tetra in Europe. FluMist, approved by the FDA in 2012, helped grow AstraZeneca's flu vaccine sales 56% in the fourth quarter of 2013. The European Commission granted marketing approval for Fluenz Tetra in December 2013. 

Kathleen Coelingh, senior director of U.S. medical affairs at MedImmune, told FierceVaccines that the company began ramping up production of FluMist in anticipation of the ACIP decision. Coelingh said MedImmune expects to have 18 million doses on the market the next flu season, up from 12.7 million that were available for the flu season that ended in May. About 90% of those doses go to children, Coelingh said.

ACIP recommendations are usually approved by the CDC director, but after that, doctors still have a choice of what vaccines to offer patients. Coelingh said she expects FluMist to be a more attractive option for both parents and children.

"Children generally like the idea of not getting a shot," Coelingh told FierceVaccines. "Once they try it, that's the one they want to go back to." Plus, Coelingh said a nasal vaccine is easier to administrate widely in schools.

The news could also make AZ more attractive to Pfizer ($PFE), which may still be eyeing up a merger with the British company, according to an analyst quoted by The New York Times earlier this week. Pfizer CEO Ian Read has said the company is looking to bulk up its vaccines portfolio beyond lead seller Prevnar 13, a goal the deal could accomplish.

Special Report: Major FDA vaccine approvals of 2012 - FluMist