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Needle-Free Shots Make Vaccines Less Scary

Alternatives to Traditional Vaccinations Appeal to Patients Who Don't Like Needles
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 20, 2011 (Chicago) -- If you or your child gets worked up just thinking about getting a flu shot, take note: Needle-free vaccines may soon be coming to your neighborhood -- if they’re not already there.

Needle-free vaccines are generally safer, simple, and more convenient to use, says Bruce Weniger, MD, MPH, associate editor of the journal Vaccine.

And a lot less scary, says Michael Decker, MD, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

"They let you escape the emotional aspects of that big needle coming right at you," he tells WebMD.

The experts spoke at the 51st Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy about a number of skin-based needle-free vaccinations on the market and in development.

Already on the market are new-generation jet injectors, which can be thought of as powerful squirt guns, Weniger says.

PharmaJet is a needle-free system that applies a high-pressure inoculation through the skin. It's being offered as an alternative to traditional flu shots for people who have a fear of needles in many places across the country.

An advantage of the jet injectors is that a smaller dose is needed to achieve inoculation, important for times of vaccine shortage, he says.

Jet injectors can cause momentary discomfort, as they basically punch the skin with a concentrated spray of liquid.

Skin Patch Against Flu

Intercell is working on a vaccine patch for pandemic influenzas, such as the recent outbreak of the avian influenza strain H5N1, or bird flu.

After a dose of injected vaccine is given, the patch is placed over the vaccination site. The patch releases chemicals designed to augment the immune response to the injected vaccine.

"It's put on the skin, much like a Band-Aid. The drug is dissolved into the skin and it's peeled off," Weniger explains.

Like injectors, the patch could expand limited vaccine supplies by allowing fewer or lower doses of vaccine, he says.

A mid-stage study of the patch produced disappointing results last year. It's now being tested in combination with another H5N1 vaccine.

Needles as Thin as Hair

While not needle-free, another new vaccine system uses a needle as thin as a human hair to inoculate people against the flu.

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