Flu-plasters could offer needle-free alternatives to traditional vaccines

25th Aug 2017
Flu-plasters could offer needle-free alternatives to traditional vaccines

This close-up image shows the microneedle vaccine patch, which contains tiny needles that dissolve into the skin, carrying vaccine. A majority of study participants said they would prefer to receive the influenza vaccine using patches rather than traditional hypodermic needles. (Photo: Devin McAllister, Georgia Tech)

Many people are put off having injections due to a fear of needles, but this could be about to change following reports of successful flu vaccinations using a sticking plaster instead of a needle. Reports from an initial trial of a sticking plaster flu jab that delivers the vaccine into the skin has shown it can successfully immunise people against the flu without the need for a traditional needle.

The patch is around the size of a standard sticking plaster and contains 100 hair-like micro-needles that contain the vaccine. When the plaster is put on the skin the tiny needles deliver the vaccine into the skin and then dissolve. This is a first step in providing needle free vaccinations, which is great news for those who don’t like needles, and the patches could even be put on by the patients themselves.

The trial, which involved 100 people, was designed to test the effectiveness and safety profile of the patches, as compared to traditional vaccination. The patches were tested alongside flu injections, with some of the volunteers receiving injections and the rest applied the microneedle patch to their wrist for 20 minutes.

Most of the volunteers who used the patch said it was painless, but some experienced mild side effects including redness, itching and tenderness in the skin area where it had been applied. These symptoms got better on their own over days. The results of antibody production suggest the patch method was just as effective as a standard injection in providing immunity. Most of the volunteers who received the patch said they preferred it to vaccinations. This is a phase 1 trial of the patches and results indicate it can successfully be used to immunise people against the flu, larger trials will be now be conducted to confirm the vaccines efficacy and safety profile.

An additional benefit of the patches is that they do not require refrigeration like traditional vaccines. This means their transport and storage is easier and they could be kept in pharmacies and bought over the counter, as patients could administer the vaccine themselves – they could even conceivably be posted to people. All of which could potentially increase vaccine uptake. They may also be ideal for countries in the developing world where access to reliable refrigeration is often limited.

This study is one of several into different pain-free delivery methods for vaccines and hopefully is the start of new ways to give vaccinations without a needle. Although, even if the results are confirmed, it’s likely to be several years before flu vaccine patches are in routine use – hopefully, it is only a matter of time before needle free injections become available.

The patch vaccine is being developed by researchers from Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, who are funded by the US National Institutes of Health.

Rachel Kayani

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