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Trending Science: A painless flu jab without the scary injection

A ‘painless’ sticking plaster flu jab that delivers vaccine directly into the skin has passed landmark safety tests during its first trial with human subjects. Those in higher risk categories for flu who need the annual jab but shudder at the thought of a needle should rejoice – but the new plaster also promises other benefits.

The new patch, developed by researchers at Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, United States, has a hundred tiny hair-like micro-needles on its adhesive side that penetrate the skin’s surface. Only the uppermost layers of the skin are punctured, whilst regular flu vaccination injections penetrate all the way through into the muscle. For the study, 100 adults aged between 18 and 49 who had previously chosen not to receive a flu vaccine were recruited and randomly sorted into four groups, one of which received the traditional injection to the arm. In the other three groups, all applied the new patch to their skin for 20 minutes, allowing the micro-needles to dissolve before the device was removed and disposed of. One group received a placebo, the other two the flu vaccine. All participants were then assessed for 180 days, and adverse events and antibody levels measured. None of the patients in any of the groups experienced showed serious adverse effects and the mild side effects were similar for all those vaccinated, regardless of the administration method used. Importantly, antibody response was just as good with the patch as with the traditional injection. 96 % of those administrated by the sticking plaster reported that they found it to be pain-free and 70 % of those vaccinated with the patch preferred the method over other methods of administration. Whilst the new patch promises to revolutionise how flu vaccinations are given, don’t expect to be receiving your particular vaccination anytime soon - the next step will be further large-scale trials but the results are incredibly promising. In particular, the patch is simple enough for people to administer themselves at home, which should encourage more people in high-risk groups to be vaccinated. Additionally, the sticking plaster doesn’t need to be refrigerated, which should allow pharmacists to store more units on their shelves. ‘We could envisage vaccination at home, in the workplace or even via mail distribution,’ commented Emory University’s Dr Nadine Rouphael. Not only could the low-cost patch be highly useful in reaching people in developed countries, but would also be a potent tool for increasing flu vaccination programmes in developing countries and for allowing a quicker, more efficient response during a future flu pandemic. The patch is also more environmentally friendly as it lessens the amount of dangerous waste that needs to be disposed of. ‘I think it is really quite a promising way forward,’ commented John McCauley, director of the Worldwide Influenza Centre at the Francis Crick Institute in London. ‘If you can make [vaccination] easier, more people will take it. With more people taking it, there is better ability to control infection at the population level.'


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