There are many reasons some people may not get a flu shot, but would they be more likely to do so if there was a simple device that could be mailed directly to them, was easy enough to use by themselves, and provided at least the same level of protection as a traditional flu shot without the pain of a needle jab? A new NIBIB-funded study suggests the answer is yes.
Nearly 100 healthy adults took part in a study led by Mark Prausnitz, Ph.D., of the Georgia Institute of Technology, on their ability and willingness to use a microneedle patch. The patch consists of 50 tiny needles, each about as tall as a credit card is thick, arranged at the center of a thin, flexible foam pad about the size of an adult fingertip. Each participant was provided three microneedle patches to apply to his or her own forearm; none of the patches used in this study had influenza vaccine. The participants also had one microneedle patch applied by a trained researcher and were administered one intramuscular injection of saline with an inch-long needle, similar to syringes used for traditional flu shots, also by a trained researcher. Participants noted a fairly low level of pain from the intramuscular injection—15 on a scale of 1–100, with 100 being the highest level of pain—while the microneedle patch was generally rated far lower at 1.5 out of 100, whether self-administered or administered by a study investigator.
Even more importantly, the patch could significantly increase the rate of immunization, providing better protection for the public as a whole. Among study participants who did not plan to get a flu shot that year, 38 percent said they would vaccinate if self-administration of the microneedle patch was an option. Such a dramatic increase, if reflected in the general population, could greatly limit lost productivity due to flu-related work absences and reduce flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.
Prausnitz and colleagues plan to start a clinical trial in the spring of 2015, with the goal of making the microneedle vaccine patches available within five years.
In addition to Georgia Tech, researchers at Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) contributed to this study, published online February 11, 2014, in the journal Vaccine.2 Prausnitz received funding from NIBIB for this research under grant award R01EB006369 and additional funding to develop and study the use of microneedle patches for influenza vaccination under Quantum Grant U01EB012495.
2. Norman JJ, Arya JM, McClain MA, Frew PM, Meltzer MI, Prausnitz MR. Microneedle patches: Usability and acceptability for self-vaccination against influenza. Vaccine. 2014 Feb 11. pii: S0264-410X(14)00139-X. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2014.01.076. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 24530146.