When it comes to flu vaccines, a federal panel says, a squirt in the nose is better than a shot in the arm for young children.

The advisory panel voted Wednesday to advise doctors that FluMist nasal spray is a bit better at preventing flu in healthy kids 2 through 8 years old.

Some studies have found that children in that age group are about half as likely to get the flu if they had the spray vaccine than if they had a shot.

Federal health officials usually adopt the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. A flu vaccine is now recommended for virtually everyone over 6 months old.

AstraZeneca’s FluMist is the only spray vaccine on the market. It was first licensed in 2003 and is approved for healthy people 2 to 49. Unlike flu shots made from a killed virus, it is made from a live but weakened flu virus.

Experts say the spray prompts a better immune response in children who may have never been infected with flu before, but there is no clear difference in adults.

The nation’s largest pediatricians group, however, objected to giving preference to the spray for children. A representative of the American Academy of Pediatrics noted that FluMist is more expensive, that it cannot be used for everyone and that doctors have already ordered their vaccine doses for the fall flu season.

Health officials at Wednesday’s meeting stressed that if doctors do not have FluMist in stock, flu shots are perfectly fine — both work. FluMist costs about $23; shots range from about $8 to $22.