The Short of It
Scientists have created a needle-free measles vaccine that could dramatically increase the number of immunizations around the world.
Earlier this year, a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland in Los Angeles, and made close to 150 people sick, renewed fears about the disease in the United States. It's suspected that the virus entered this country from abroad and spread in unvaccinated and under-vaccinated communities. Now, a needle-free formula provides hope that the risk of a scare like this could be greatly reduced.
A major hurdle for immunizing people around the world against measles is that trained nurses have to be on hand to administer the shot. Plus, the vial of vaccine must be properly handled and stored, or it will go bad.
A stick-on patch made up of micro-needles that dissolve on the skin in minutes could change all that. The patches could one day be sent via mail to hard-to-reach populations, and people would stick them on their own skin, or minimally trained technicians could administer the vaccines.
"The additives that we put into the vaccine had to be different," says Mark Prausnitz, a professor of biomolecular engineering at Georgia Tech, who is in charge of the research team. He said it took some work to make a formula that would keep the vaccine viable on the patch instead of in a vial full of liquid.
The patches are still in the testing phases, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls them a game-changer.
"Microneedle technology could move the Global Vaccine Action Plan forward by leading to improved protection against other diseases, including polio, influenza, rotavirus, rubella, tuberculosis and others. CDC is also collaborating with Georgia Tech to see if microneedles could be used to administer inactivated polio vaccine," the CDC said in a statement.
Needle-free vaccines could also make the vaccination process less stressful for kids who have a fear of shots.
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