If you've been avoiding getting a flu shot and risking getting violently sick each year because of a fear of needles, then you'll be happy to hear that an alternative may soon be available. Researchers at Georgia Tech and Emory University have created what may be the first alternative to a syringe when it comes to vaccinating against the flu, and hopefully other illnesses as well. They have created a patch that is absolutely tiny - from the look of them they are probably about the size of one of the "dot" Band-Aids that you normally get after a shot - and it has 100 little microneedles that deliver the vaccine.
The patches work by putting them to the skin - in this case on the wrist - and pressed into the skin until a snapping sound is heard. At that point they must sit on the skin for around twenty minutes - during that twenty minutes the microneedles containing the vaccines dissolve into the skin. It's so simple that it can be done by the individual, and since the patches don't need to be kept cool like regular vaccines do, they can be mailed or bought and brought home to use at any time. Since the microneedles dissolve, there is no need for special disposal, the patches can be thrown away like a Band-Aid when you're done.
These patches have just passed their first clinical trial and with extremely positive results. The clinical trial included 100 people who were broken up into four different groups. Two groups were given the new flu vaccine patch, one group had the patch administered by a healthcare professional and another group got to self administer the patches. Another group had patches administered by healthcare professionals, but those patches contained a placebo, rather than the actual vaccine. The last group received a traditional flu shot - so researchers could determine if the patches were as effective as current vaccines.
Now, when you heard microneedles you might have thought for a second that it still sounds painful - but after being vaccinated 96 percent of those who were given patches reported that they felt no pain. In comparison of the group who received the traditional flu shot only 82 percent were able to say that they felt no pain. Some of those who used the patches did however report skin irritation at the vaccination site. In a follow-up after 28 days after the initial vaccination 70 percent of participants said they would prefer the use the patches again in the future over a traditional shot.
Once finding out how patients tolerated the patches, it was time for researchers to determine if they were as effective as the traditional shots. Both versions contained the same amount of antigens from three different common strains of the flu. This first clinical trial has found that the patches did provide a comparable efficiency to the traditional flu shots when it comes to creating antibodies that fight and protect against the flu virus. When considering side effects both versions of the vaccine showed the typical tenderness at vaccination site, headache and fatigue.
While these patches still need to go through larger scale clinical trials before they are available to consumers, these initial results are extremely positive. In a matter of a few years we may be able to go and pick up flu vaccine patches from the drug store and administer them ourselves, saving time and likely money in the process. On top of that the potential to use this same product to administer other vaccines would make vaccinations much less of an anxiety inducing situation than it is now.
As it stands, only a small percentage of people actually get a flu shot each year, many avoiding it because they can't get past the thought of volunteering to be jabbed with a needle. If you don't normally get a flu shot, would you consider trying one of these patches?
[Featured Image by Tim Boyle/Getty Images]