A DIY flu jab without needles, on your wrist
LONDON: A patch could replace the annual flu jab, research suggests.
In future, the patches could be sent out in the post, enabling people to quickly and easily vaccinate themselves without having to queue at the GP’s surgery, experts said. A trial of the patch by US scientists at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, found it worked as well as a jab and was preferred by patients.
The study, in The Lancet medical journal, also revealed it could be safely stored for a year without a fridge – meaning it could easily be distributed to patients to administer to themselves. The device, measuring roughly 2.5cm in diameter, contains the same vaccine as is given in conventional flu injections.
But it can be self-administered by simply placing on the wrist for 20 minutes and then removed. The patch contains 100 tiny “microneedles” which pierce the top layer of the skin.
The needles dissolve while they are in the skin, meaning there is no danger of piercing a second patient and passing on blood-borne diseases – a major safety fear when people inject themselves without professional supervision. Experts say the device could significantly improve uptake of flu vaccination.
The disease kills 5 000 people in England each year, and most victims are elderly or suffer from existing respiratory conditions. For this reason, the National Health Service encourages anyone over the age of 65 to have an annual flu jab.
Younger people who are considered at risk – including pregnant women, young children aged two, three and four, and anyone with asthma or other conditions – are also offered the vaccine.
However, uptake of the jab is poor, and falling. Only 71% of over-65s had the vaccine in 2015/16, along with just 42% of pregnant women, roughly a third of young children, and less than half of people with existing health conditions.
Experts said alternative ways of delivering the vaccine might improve take-up – particularly among those afraid of needles or too busy to go to the GP.
The patch was tested on 100 people who had chosen not to receive the flu vaccine. It was found that after six months, no serious side effects linked to the vaccine were reported and there were no cases of influenza.
As well as this, participants reported high “acceptability” scores of between 4.5 and 4.8 out of 5, with some 70% saying they preferred it to the injection.
Study leader Dr Nadine Rouphael said: “Despite the recommendation for adults and children to receive a flu shot, many people remain unvaccinated.
“The patch could be safely applied by participants themselves, meaning we could envisage vaccination at home, in the workplace or even via mail distribution.
“These advantages could reduce the cost of the flu vaccine and potentially increase coverage. Our findings now need confirming in larger trials.”
Experts in Britain welcomed the study, saying the patches could be particularly useful for children.
Dr Maria Zambon, director of reference microbiology at Public Health England, said: “This is a good early research and we await more tests on these patches to see their effectiveness.
“Microneedle patches have the potential to be used for vaccination programmes and could help those scared of needles.”