Patch promises painless flu vaccine

Would you be more likely to get your flu vaccine if, instead of getting a shot, you could simply stick a patch on your skin? A small new study suggests that such a patch is safe to use and that people preferred it to a shot.

In the study, which was a phase I clinical trial, the researchers looked at how a “dissolvable microneedle patch” that contained the flu vaccine stacked up against the traditional flu shot . The patch is about the size of a thumbprint and contains 100 needles that are 650 micrometers (or about 0.03 inches) long. Of the 50 participants who tried it, 48 said it didn’t hurt.

The researchers found that the microneedle patch was safe and led to a good immune response in the study participants, suggesting that the vaccine was working, although further study of the patch in a larger trial is needed to confirm this.

They also found that the study participants preferred the patch to getting a flu shot, said lead study author Dr. Nadine Rouphael, an infectious-disease specialist and associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Georgia.

The finding that the people in the study preferred the patch to the traditional injection was an important one, because not enough people get their flu vaccine each year . The flu is responsible for around 48,000 deaths in U.S. annually, according to the study, published today (June 27) in the journal The Lancet .

The researchers hope that because the microneedle patch is painless and easy to use, “that should encourage more people to get the vaccine,” said senior study author Mark Prausnitz, a professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Prausnitz co-founded Micron Biomedical, a company that manufactures the microneedle patches.

For the most part, medicines are given by one of two methods: a pill or an injection , Prausnitz told Live Science. Most people can take pills, but getting an injection is more complicated and typically requires a trip to the doctor’s office, he said.

Prausnitz and his team wanted to come up with a method to make it easier for people to take medicines that normally need to be injected.

The microneedle patch was designed with transdermal patches in mind, Prausnitz said. Transdermal patches are another method of drug delivery, but they only work for a certain subset of drugs that can be absorbed through the skin.

Most medicines are typically not well-absorbed through the skin because of a tough-to-penetrate layer called the stratum corneum, Prausnitz said. But this layer is incredibly thin — about 10 or 20 micrometers thick — which is thinner than a human hair, he said.