Everyone who loves getting injections, please raise your arm. For many of us, getting a flu shot or other vaccination is a necessary but potentially painful task. As a result, many people balk at getting the shots that they need. The fact that they must be administered by a trained medical technician adds to the inconvenience, though this problem is reduced now that flu shots are available at many drug stores and even supermarkets. A more convenient and painless way to deliver vaccines could result in much broader compliance with physicians’ recommendations.

Researchers at Emory University and Georgia Tech have developed a solution to this problem. They created a small patch that you apply to the skin. The patch is covered with a matrix of microneedles that painlessly penetrate the skin. The needles break off and release their vaccine payload. The researchers recently released the results of a Phase I clinical trial of the new technology. Adult subjects were randomly divided into four groups. One group received a standard injection using a hypodermic needle. A second group had a microneedle patch applied by a healthcare professional, and a third group applied the patches by themselves. The final group received a patch applied by a healthcare professional, but one that contained a placebo instead of the vaccine.

The results showed that the microneedle patches were as effective as the injection. In addition, the patches do not require refrigeration for up to a year (unlike traditional vaccines) and there is no “sharps” waste requiring disposal. The fact that the patches can be self-administered means that patients could purchase vaccines at a local drug store, or even order them by mail. The researchers are also looking at vaccines for measles, rubella, and polio as potential candidates for this technology. If the patches proved to be as effective as they were in this initial study, this approach could lead to more people being protected by vaccinations and at a lower cost than with traditional methods.