This article appears in the Health Living fall 2017 magazine.
Every year flu season arrives but the strain of flu differs, ebbing and flowing from mild to severe. The flu shot also changes annually, as the medical community seeks to anticipate just what strain of flu will hit the public.
“It’s important to protect yourself and those around you. Everybody needs a flu shot,” said Dr. John Meigs, a family physician practicing in Centreville, Alabama, and president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
For people who don’t like shots — and who does — an exciting new way to deliver the flu vaccine has been created by researchers led by a team at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University. This alternative to needle-and-syringe immunization could eliminate the discomfort of an injection as well as the inconvenience and expense of visiting a clinic.
Just like slapping on a bandage, a sticky patch with 100 microneedles will painlessly penetrate the skin and transfer the flu vaccine as the needle tips dissolve within minutes. The patch is peeled away and discarded.
“The skin is an immune surveillance organ. It’s our interface with the outside world, so it’s very well-equipped to detect a pathogen and mount an immune response against it,” said Dr. Mark Prausnitz, regents professor and J. Erskine Love chair in chemical and biomolecular engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology.
“A person would not feel the microneedles very much at all. In the clinical trial, some of the participants reported some redness and minor discomfort, but they did not feel the individual needles. The microneedle vaccine patch does not feel like being stuck with 100 needles at once,” said Dr. Seila Selimovic, director, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.
Preliminary testing showed the flu patch was as safe and effective as traditional flu shots. About the same cost to manufacture as a flu shot, the patch can dramatically reduce the cost of vaccination because it can be delivered for self-administration without health-care workers overseeing the process.
However, we’ll have to wait for the flu patch.
“The microneedle vaccine patch was only a phase 1 clinical trial, and the team would need to design and conduct at least two additional phases of research, including a much larger trial, before the experimental microneedle vaccine patch would be approved for use,” Selimovic said.
Core recommendations for the 2017-18 flu season remain the same as last year:
No nasal spray
Studies have found that the nasal flu vaccine, which is made from a weakened form of influenza as opposed to flu shots that are made from the dead virus, is largely ineffective, Meigs said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against using the spray, marketed under the name FluMist.
Shot OK for egg-allergic
People with egg allergies can receive an age-appropriate flu vaccine. The most common way that flu vaccines are made is using an egg-based manufacturing process, which has been used for more than 70 years, Meigs said. People with serious egg allergies should visit their family physician for a flu vaccine rather than getting it someplace else.
Everyone should get one
The flu shot is advised for everyone 6 months and older and is especially important for the very young and old, for pregnant women, and for people with chronic illnesses or who are immunocompromised.