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Could self-administered flu vaccine patches replace injections?

vaccine_patchLike many of us, I loathe getting shots. But after a serious case of the flu while on vacation led to an emergency room visit, I began to overlook my fear of needles and now get an annual flu shot. Still, I was interested to read about new research showing that self-administration of flu vaccines with microneedle patches, which can be painlessly pressed into outer layers of the skin, may one day be feasible.

In the study, researchers tested if individuals could successfully apply a prototype vaccine patch to themselves. Participants, none of whom had any previous experience with microneedle patches, were given instructions on how to apply them. Those involved in the study applied three patches to themselves and had a member of the research team apply a fourth. Individuals also received an injection of saline with a conventional hypodermic needle.

A release describes the study results and speculates on the significance of the findings for boosting vaccine rates:

The researchers evaluated how well the volunteers were able to self-administer the microneedle patches. After the subjects pressed the patches into their skin, the researchers applied a dye to highlight the tiny holes made by the microneedles. By photographing the administration sites and counting the number of holes, they were able to assess the accuracy of the application.

"We found that everyone was capable of administering a microneedle patch appropriately, though not everyone did on the first try," [said Mark Prausnitz, PhD, a professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology].

Some of the subjects used an applicator that made a clicking sound when sufficient force was applied to the patch. Use of that feedback device improved the ability of subjects to correctly apply patches and virtually eliminated administration mistakes.

During the study, the volunteers were asked if they planned to receive a flu vaccination in the next year and if their intent to be vaccinated would change if it could be done with the patch. The percentage saying they'd be vaccinated jumped from 46 to 65 percent when the patch was an option.

"If this holds for the population as a whole, that would have a tremendous impact on preventing disease and the cost associated with both influenza and the vaccination process," said Paula Frew, an assistant professor in the Emory University School of Medicine and a co-author of the study.

Previously: Scientists develop technique to deliver dried vaccines to the skin without a needle, Laser-powered needle holds potential for delivering pain-free injections and Taking the sting out of injections
Photo by Gary Meek

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