Booking a holiday is all fun and games until you remember the dread of visiting the GP to have a needle stuck in your arm before you’ve even set foot on a plane.
And for needle-phobes (known as trypanophobia) even getting routine immunisations such as a seasonal flu jab can be a stressful experience, so any hope of an alternative “painless” method has to be welcome news.
Well we have good news because scientists have developed an anti-influenza patch that works like a plaster with no side effects, and is just as effective in generating immunity to the disease as needles.
The team from Georgia Tech have been testing the patch in important safety trials since June 2015, on a group of participants aged 18-49 who did not have a flu jab the previous year, and have now published their promising results in the Lancet Journal.
The patch, which uses a hundred tiny, dissolving, micro needles (described as hair-like follicles) to deliver the vaccine into the skin, is simple enough for people to stick on themselves so would save on a doctor’s appointment.
Co-author on the study, Mark Prausnitz, said: “One of the main goals of developing the micro needle patch technology was to make vaccines accessible to more people. Traditionally, if you get an influenza vaccine you need to visit a health care professional who will administer the vaccine using a hypodermic needle.”
And it isn’t just convenient, the patch reportedly delivered no adverse side effects, apart from some localised redness or itchiness that was gone within 48 hours.
In fact more than 70% of participants said they would prefer to use in the future compared to visiting the doctor.
The patch could also save money because it is easily self-administered and could be transported and stored without refrigeration, and is easily dropped off after use without sharps waste.
“The vaccine is stored in the refrigerator, and the used needle must be disposed of in a safe manner. With the micro needle patch, you could pick it up at the store and take it home, put it on your skin for a few minutes, peel it off and dispose of it safely, because the micro needles have dissolved away. The patches can also be stored outside the refrigerator, so you could even mail them to people,” said Prausnitz.
And most importantly, it works; antibody responses generated by the patch vaccine were similar in the groups receiving intramuscular vaccination, and were still present after six months.
This finding supports studies from 2011, also at Georgia Tech, that found a vaccine delivered to the skin using a micro needle patch gives better protection against the H1N1 influenza virus than a vaccine delivered through subcutaneous or intramuscular injection.
Mice given a single H1N1 vaccine through the skin using a coated metal micro needle patch as well as mice vaccinated through subcutaneous injection were 100 percent protected against a lethal flu virus challenge six weeks after vaccination.
This patch could be a key component in the fight against dropping child immunisation rates in the UK, as the NHS reports a year-on-year decline in the number of children completing routine requirements. In 2016 93.6% of children completed the course, compared to 94.2% in 2014.
The researchers are now working to develop micro needle patches for use with other vaccines, including measles, rubella and polio.