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Micro-needle patch could replace flu shots

Last updated on January 27, 2018

If you are afraid of injections, a small patch might be the solution to dealing with the flu. The resluts of a clinical trial published in The Lancet medical journal, showed the micro-needle patch to be “well tolerated” for possible use. Instead of getting a flu shot with a traditional syringe needle, the small patch, which is outfitted with 100 tiny needles, gets pressed into the skin where it delivers a vaccine.

“They’re really small, you can barely see them,” said Dr. Nadine Rouphael, an associate professor at the Emory University School of Medicine and lead author of the trial, which was a collaboration with the Georgia Institute of Technology.

She described the microneedles as being so tiny as to not cause as much pain as the traditional flu shot.

“We also looked at the efficiancy of the vaccine. Is it able to induce a similar immune response to the regular flu shot? And it did, actually,” Rouphael said.

The Band-Aid-like patch has the same type of vaccine that would be in a traditinal flu shot, but instead, this version offers the vaccine with tiny needles on a patch rather that one large flu shot. She explained, “There is an audible snap that you hear when you apply enough pressure to ensure that the microneedles will actually penetrate the skin. … After few minutes, we remove the patch. By then, those microneedles will be completely dissolved within the skin, along with the vaccine.”

The clinical trial involved 100 adult volunteers who were vaccinated between June and September 2015 at the Hope Clinic of the Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta. They were randomly divided into four groups before being treated. One group received a patch flu shot administered by a health worker, while another group received the vaccine with the traditional syringe. The third received a patch of microneedles, which was a placebo, and members of the latter used the patch but administered it themselves.

Researchers found that immediately after vaccination, 96 percent of adults who received the patch reported on a questionnaire that they did not feel pain, while 82 percent of those who received the traditional vaccine reported the same.

Twenty-eight days later, about 70 percent of participants who received the vaccine in the patch reported that they preferred the microneedles over a traditional flu shot or intranasal vaccination.

Experts also found that reactions to the vaccines were similar between the groups, although those who used the patch had more redness and itching at the injection site, which lasted two to three days.

“We had 25 participants that were in the self-administer group who could do it themselves, and they felt like it didn’t bother them as far as pain or tenderness in particular,” Rouphael said. “They were impressed by how tiny it was, how easy it was to administer.”

“We conclude that influenza vaccination with microneedle patches is well tolerated, well accepted, and results in robust immunological responses, whether administered by healthcare workers or by the participants themselves,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Stephen Morse, professor and director of the infectious disease epidemiology certificate program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health said, “The technology is limited by the stability of what you’re trying to administer and the volume. It has to be a small volume, because you know, the patches are not that big. They can’t hold that much.”

However, “now that you know you can give the vaccine this way and you have a suitable product, then I think it would be very useful in a mass-immunization situation,” he said. “The flu being the most straightforward example.”