Getting a flu ‘shot’ could soon be as easy as sticking on a Band-Aid

Sticky patch with vaccine-infused microneedles prompted immune response

STUCK ON YOU  This patch has an array of microneedles that penetrate the skin to deliver a dose of the flu vaccine.

N. Rouphael et al/Lancet 2017

DIY vaccination may be on its way. In the first test in adults, a Band-Aid‒like patch studded with dissolving microneedles safely and effectively delivered a dose of influenza vaccine.

People using the patch had a similar immune response to the flu vaccine as those who received a typical flu shot, researchers report online June 27 in the Lancet. And nearly all of the patch users described the experience as painless.

The patch eliminates the need for safe needle disposal, and since it is stable at room temperature for at least a year, it doesn’t require refrigeration, unlike other vaccines. So, it could eventually end up on pharmacy shelves, making vaccination more akin to picking up aspirin than visiting a doctor. Along with possibly improving vaccination rates in the United States, the patch could make delivering vaccines in developing countries easier, too, the researchers say.

Myron Levine, a vaccinologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, points out that more testing of the patch is yet to come. But “what a great first start,” he says. “I love the idea of not having to worry about a needle and syringe.”

One side of the patch looks like a regular bandage. The other side holds a small array of 100 hard cone-shaped microneedles, each a little more than half a millimeter tall, made of polyvinyl alcohol, sugar and the vaccine.

When pushed into the back of the wrist, the microneedles penetrate the outer layer of the skin and dissolve. Mark Prausnitz, a study coauthor and chemical engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, says having the patch on feels “a little like Velcro being pressed against the skin.”

The researchers recruited 100 healthy adults who had not yet gotten the vaccine made for the 2014‒2015 flu season. Participants either received a shot, self-applied a patch, or had the patch — either with the vaccine or without — placed by a health care worker.

No matter how the vaccine was administered, participants experienced similar typical mild side effects such as nausea, fatigue or headache. People who got the shot reported pain at the site of injection, while those who used the microneedle patch described an itchiness.

If the patch becomes available, its ease of use might boost U.S. vaccination rates — only about 43 percent of adults were vaccinated against the flu in the 2014‒2015 season. It also could help with mass vaccination campaigns in countries with limited resources and minimally trained personnel. Testing in people of a patch with polio vaccine is planned, in order to aid polio eradication efforts, Prausnitz says.

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