Flu Vaccine in a Patch? Study Suggests It Works as Well as an Injection

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
August 18, 2017
Could you get your flu vaccine from a patch?

Hate getting a flu shot every year? Good news: The future of flu shots may be a painless patch.

Researchers from Emory University and Georgia Tech have developed and tested a bandage-strip sized patch; results were published in a recent edition of The Lancet.

The patch is designed to adhere to skin like a bandage. A hundred tiny, solid, water-soluble needles penetrate the skin and then dissolve. The patch can be removed like a bandage after a few minutes.

To test the vaccine patch, researchers recruited 100 adults. Study participants were sorted into four groups that had:

  • A healthcare professional administer a vaccine patch
  • Self-administered a vaccine patch
  • A healthcare professional administer an intramuscular injection of flu vaccine
  • A healthcare professional administer a placebo patch

Results showed that participants received the same amount of vaccine from the patch, regardless if it was administered by a healthcare professional or themselves. Blood analysis found a similar number of antibodies in both the patch vaccine group and the injection vaccine group. And immune responses were still present after six months. Some study participants experienced a mild skin rash around the patch site that lasted a couple of days, but no serious side effects. 

Although more research is needed before the patch is available, researchers already plan to offer a mail order, self-administered version. They also plan on developing vaccine patches for measles, rubella and polio. Funding for the patch was provided by the National Institutes of Health.

Influenza kills 36,000 Americans each year, but only about 40 percent get vaccinate. And, the number of flu shots given to adults over 65 have declined over the past couple of years. However, if just 5 percent more people in the U.S. got a flu shot, 800,000 illnesses and 10,000 hospitalizations could be prevented, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Many of my patients avoided getting their flu shot,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “It was concerning; influenza can be life threatening for senior citizens and those living with a chronic condition.” 

So why do people skip the flu vaccine? In a 2015 survey conducted by NPR and Truven Health, consumers said the vaccine was unnecessary, they had concerns about side effects or worries that the vaccine could infect them with the flu. Other studies have shown that many consumers are afraid of shots. About 20 percent of Americans have trypanophobia—a fear of needles.

“I’m hoping that once the patch is available, more people will get vaccinated,” says Kaminetsky. “My concern is that even less people will get vaccinated now that the nasal spray is no longer recommended and shots are the only available vaccine method.”

If you have questions about vaccinations, talk to your doctor. They’ll be able to guide you on which ones you need. As part of the MDVIP Wellness Program, your doctor can customize a wellness plan for you and your needs, including helping prevent and treat influenza.

Don’t have an MDVIP-affiliated doctor? MDVIP has a nationwide network of physicians? Find one near you and begin your partnership in health »

About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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