thOne of the most welcome advances in vaccine technology in recent years is the ability to spray a fine mist of influenza vaccine into a person’s nose.  No injection site pain; no mess of alcohol, a spot of blood, a bandaid; predictable and robust immunity. Most kids appreciate not having to get a shot when they come to the office, so they really like FluMist.

“Why can’t all vaccines be this easy?” I’m asked constantly during flu season.  So I challenge my young patients when they grow up to invent ways to immunize people without pain and fear.

A new study published in the journal Vaccine looks at the use of microneedle patches as a pain-free way to boost influenza vaccine acceptance rates while also decreasing the costs of administration:

To simulate vaccination, subjects received placebo microneedle patches given three times by self-administration and once by the investigator, as well as an intramuscular injection of saline. Seventy participants inserted patches with thumb pressure alone and the remainder used snap-based devices that closed shut at a certain force.


Maggie Fox envisions a day when annual flu vaccine will arrive in the mail and be administered by the recipients themselves:

“Our dream is that each year there would be flu vaccine patches available in stores or sent by mail for people to self-administer,” said Mark Prausnitz, a professor of biomolecular engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “People could take them home and apply them to the whole family. We want to get more people vaccinated, and we want to relieve health care professionals from the burden of giving these millions of vaccinations.”

The patch is covered with an array of 50 tiny needles needles that barely penetrate the skin, and this initial study was testing how people used the patch, not how well it delivered vaccine. But other research by the group suggests it may be even more effective than a flu shot.


A variety of medications are currently able to be applied directly to the skin, where they are absorbed into the body for therapeutic effect.  The results of this study indicate this vaccine patch may be a technology whose time has come:

When a self-administered microneedle patch was offered, intent to vaccinate increased from 44% to 65% (CI: 55–74%). The majority of those intending vaccination would prefer to self-vaccinate: 64% (CI: 51–75%). There were no serious adverse events associated with use of microneedle patches. The findings from this initial study indicate that microneedle patches for self-vaccination against influenza are usable and may lead to improved vaccination coverage.


Fox says studies with real flu vaccine are coming:

The researchers are working with a company to start tests with a real flu vaccine early next year. “We have a major vaccine manufacturer who will provide the vaccine, but we are not free to disclose the company name yet,” [Georgia Tech’s James] Norman said.


If researchers can do this with influenza, how about other vaccines?  Stay tuned!