Needle-Free Flu Protection: Could this Patch Be Coming Soon?

Tired of fighting with your family to get a flu shot? One unique medical innovation may soon make this task a little easier. A press-on patch that delivers the flu vaccine painlessly worked as well as an old-fashioned flu shot with no serious side effects in one recent trial, say researchers.

How does the patch work? The patch contains a layer of tiny, micro-points that are made out of the vaccine itself. When pressed into the skin, these points dissolve, delivering the dried vaccine into the outer layer of a person’s skin. That layer, say scientists, is loaded with immune system cells that are designed to be the first line of defense against invaders such as bacteria and viruses. These cells, they say, take up the vaccine and use it to prime themselves against a flu infection.

In a formal trial, people who tried out the patch said it was not painful or difficult to use, and tests of their blood suggested the vaccine it delivers created about the same immune response as a regular flu shot, the team reported in the Lancet medical journal. The hope, say experts, is the vaccine will be cheaper, easier to give and more acceptable than a regular flu vaccine.

Medical experts at Emory University School of Medicine and Georgia Tech, along with a company called Micron Biomedical, have been working on this project for years. However, this was the first test using a real flu vaccine, and the results show it caused immune responses very similar to those elicited by vaccine administered by needle and syringe.

“There were no serious adverse events,” explained study author Dr. Nadine Rouphael of the Emory University School of Medicine. “Microneedle patches have the potential to become ideal candidates for vaccination programs, not only in poorly resourced settings, but also for individuals who currently prefer not to get vaccinated, potentially even being an attractive vaccine for the pediatric population.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 140,000 and 700,000 people become infected with the flu each year and report that the flu typically kills anywhere from 12,000 to 56,000 people.

— By Sarah Burns