Our primary method of vaccination uses a needle and syringe to inject a serum into our bodies which helps train our immune system to protect us from infections. But, scientists are discovering new needle-free methods of vaccination.
Needle-free vaccines are being developed as a response to many concerns about standard needle-syringe vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States, estimates that more than 300,000 healthcare providers experience needle-stick injuries annually in US hospitals. An estimated 5 accidental needle-stick injuries occur per 100 injections worldwide, posing a considerable risk to healthcare workers.
Needles are even reused to cut costs in some developing countries. The WHO estimates that 32% of hepatitis B infections, 40% of hepatitis C infections and 5% of HIV infections in developing countries are attributable to unsafe injection practices.
But, in some cases the reason is simpler, people may experience trypanophobia, they are afraid of needles. This fear can cause mild to extreme symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks from just thinking about a shot. This can lead people with typanophobia to avoid vaccination entirely, endangering themselves and others.
There are several needle-free vaccine options on the market today. Needle-free vaccines were first developed in the 1930s. Early examples included jet injectors to help mass vaccinate patients suffering from smallpox, polio, and measles. While the practice of mass injection is no longer in use, jet injection is still an option in some regions for a needle-free vaccine.
Other options for needle-free vaccines include microinjectors, nasal sprays and even micro-needle patches. These three methods are the most prominent and have had the most success in their trials. Other types of vaccine delivery include topical solutions such as lotions and even inhalable powders.
One potential method is micro-injectors. These discharge a pressurized stream of liquid into the skin with a PharmaJet syringe. The liquid burrows into the skin upon impact. While this method is not any less painful than a needle it is a needle-free option.
Nasal spray vaccines are a less painful option that requires the patient to inhale a small amount of liquid. FluMist, a nasal vaccine for the flu, was made available to the public in 2003. The success of this vaccine has encouraged research into a nasal spray vaccine for COVID-19.
Micro-needle patches are becoming increasingly popular with vaccine makers. Pre-clinical trials of the Vaxxas’ HD-MAP patch showed a higher rate of immune response than even traditional needle-based injections.
While most of these options are still in the trial phase, they offer a promising future for both healthcare workers and patients. The need for vaccination is as evident today as it ever has been. This makes a safer way to vaccinate a focus for many scientists.
Written for Passport Health by Brittany Evans. Brittany is a freelance writer and photographer in North Carolina. She has a passion for the outdoors, health information, and travelling. You can find her here.