Many parents – and children – may breathe a sigh of relief when they learn scientists are developing alternatives to the standard needle-based vaccines. Needle-free vaccines – which some parents may soon term ouch-free vaccines when speaking to their little munchkins – are a new class of vaccine that is receiving a lot of attention.
The most recognizable is probably Flumist: a nasal spray that provides immunity against the flu. But there are more alternatives than just nasal sprays. WebMD says Skin-based needle-free vaccines provide immunity without puncturing the muscle layer beyond the skin, which is generally the main cause for discomfort. Unlike traditional vaccines, Flumist is an attenuated vaccine, meaning it contains a weakened, less virulent form of the virus, but it’s still alive, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia says the vaccine should only be given to patients with healthy immune systems.
Already on the market, jet injectors vaccinate patients through the skin with a concentrated spray of liquid. WebMD says, because this technology does not require as high a dosage, many scientists see it as the wave of the future. The military has used jet injectors in third-world countries to eradicate smallpox; however, doctors have described its administration as feeling like a punch.
Skin Patch Vaccines
A less intense form of vaccination, skin-patch vaccines can be placed on vaccination sites, releasing chemicals that augment the immune system’s response. Unlike a nicotine patch, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says, these vaccine patches are made with tiny, painless microneedles that dissolve and let the flu vaccine pass through the skin. This technique requires lower doses of vaccine compared to the standard needle-based vaccine. Scientists commend these new vaccines’ efficient use in hopes that one day their use will prevent a vaccine shortage.
While sounding like science fiction, this system of vaccination uses needles as thin as hairs to inoculate patients. Although it’s not needle-free, the needle only goes into the skin, unlike standard injections that go into the muscle, says WebMD. The device resembles a whiteboard marker in size and shape. It’s been well-received by patients -- many say it might as well be needle-free. The Federal Drug Administration has approved it for use of persons 18 through 64 years of age.
The first polio vaccine in the 1950s was a drop administered to the mouth -- for some of the lucky few, the drop was on a sugar cube. Apart from not being a shot, Medscape.com says, oral vaccines are easier to distribute and cheaper to administer, providing significant advantages over other routes of administration. Medscape.com also says the “elimination of needles from the vaccination process can negate concerns regarding the reuse and disposal of needles.” Nowadays, oral vaccines are likely to be in pill form, which tend to be more stable and less affected by temperatures when stored.
Some of these new techniques of inoculation are still in their infancy and require a lot more testing before they will be released to the American public. Flumist has been approved by the FDA. However, the FDA says many that because vaccines are administered to healthy patients, their FDA-approval is subject to stricter scrutiny and longer timelines.