If you’re afraid of needles, the flu shot might not have to be a source of anxiety anymore in the near future.
Scientists have recently developed a sticking plaster flu jab able to deliver the flu vaccine into the skin without the pain of a needle. The patch, shaped like a small Band-Aid, has a hundred microneedles on the adhesive side.
“If you zoom in under the microscope what you’ll see are microscopically small needles,” lead researcher Mark Prausnitz said to BBC Health. “They puncture painlessly into the skin.”
The patch recently passed safety tests in its first trial with people, and those who tried it said they preferred the patch to a needle. If the needle ends up on store shelves, it could offer a new approach to immunogenicity in a simple, cost-effective and safe way, the researchers said.
Other versions of the flu jab must be refrigerated, but the patch does not, allowing for pharmacies to stock the patch for consumers. By penetrating the top layers of skin, the patch gives the same amount of protection as a flu vaccine, without injecting all the way into muscle tissue.
Prausnitz’s team worked with 100 participants and randomly assigned them to four groups. Two groups received an inactivated flu vaccine via a healthcare worker as the patch and as a shot.
Another group received a placebo patch administered by a healthcare worker, while the last group was given the patch to apply to themselves without help. Most of the participants who used the patch reported redness, itching and tenderness at the patch site on their wrists that subsided days later.
Developers from Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology said the patch could change the course of the flu vaccination process. Nadine Rouphael from Emory University said the vaccine could even take place outside a doctor’s office.
“We could envisage vaccination at home, in the workplace or even via mail distribution,” she said.
For those who have a fear of needles, or even for young children, the patch can come as a relief. It can also be stored safely for a year without refrigeration, offering a vital option for health care in the developing world.
While the patch could change the game for the flu vaccine, there are already different, friendlier forms of administration. The UK has developed a nasal spray flu vaccine for children, while Australian scientists are designing a nanopatch with smaller needles.
The US approved a flu shot syringe that uses a microneedle. John Edmunds, an expert in infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the study shows how the flu vaccine can be innovated.
“This study is undoubtedly an important step towards a better way to deliver future vaccines,” Edmunds said.
Tori Linville is a freelance writer and editor from Clarksville, Tennessee. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s faithfully watching her alma mater, the University of Alabama, dominate the football field.