Vaccines – Without the Ouch!

By Shlomo Maital

I regularly listen to Science Friday, a National Public Radio program on WBUR (you can download their app easily). Some 2 million people listen every week. The host Ira Flatow explains complex scientific breakthroughs with a light touch, clear language and a sense of humor.

   This week’s edition included a segment on a novel pathbreaking way to administer vaccines, without the long needles or the ouch. Scientists at George Teach (Faculty of Chemical and Biomolecular engineering) developed a kind of patch (like the kind used to administer heart medicine) – only this patch has micro-needles, that contain the vaccine, e.g. flu vaccine. You simply slap it on your upper arm….and the micro-needles penetrate the skin and administer the vaccine.   No ouch, no needle, and – most important, no need for a doctor or a trained nurse to administer the needle. You can do it yourself.   And you don’t need to refrigerate the patches, either.

     Once the vaccine has been delivered to the blood stream, the micro-needles, which are water soluble, simply dissolve.   You pull off the patch – and discard it.  This is a huge breakthrough. Why? Because in poor countries, like Africa, getting vaccine into rural areas, and keeping it refrigerated, then having nurses or doctors administer it – this is a real challenge. These new patches could solve the problem.

       The Georgia Tech experts say they have tested the flu vaccine’s effectiveness, when administered with the patch, and it is equal to the vaccine injected by needle.

     What does the patch feel like? Flatow asked.   Like….a piece of Velcro on your skin, came the answer.

       How soon will this be available? Ira Flatow asked.

       About five years, came the answer.

      I sure wish they would speed it up!  

       This is a great example, for innovators, of uncovering hidden assumptions and smashing them. Assumption: Vaccines are administered invariably by needles. Right? Always have been.

         Well, why?   Maybe here is another way.

         I just wonder why it took researchers so long to get rid of those needles, that frighten so many people, including grown men….. and make vaccination so expensive.  It’s those insidious hidden assumptions!