vaccine and syringe in doctors hand

Science Makes Strides: Potential of No-shot Vaccine

Vaccines have been in use since Edward Jenner invented his “arm-to-arm” technique in 1796. Countless lives have been saved as a result, but — when dealing with science — one must always look to the future. Viruses get stronger and more resistant to traditional preventative measures the longer they are exposed to them, and the possibility of new illnesses cropping up is always a real danger. It’s vital — literally — that humanity is able to deal with these situations when and if they arise.

Fortunately, it seems we are well on our way: a  prototype was recently developed using the H5N1 vaccine (used to treat Influenza A virus, a.k.a. avian flu). The game-changer? It doesn’t need to be delivered via shot. Through the use of a microneedle that only penetrates the upper layer of the skin, the prototype technology could lead to “vaccine patches.”

“[They] can be distributed rapidly and administered without a nurse. People would simply have to stick a bandage-like strip, lined with microscopic needles, onto their skin.”

When you picture a pandemic (worldwide) outbreak, one of the things you see are people flocking to doctor’s offices in absolute chaos. The irony is, that’s how viruses spread: through human contact. The development of a vaccine that does not require those infected to leave their homes could eradicate the virus before it really even has a chance to get off the ground, potentially significantly reducing the number of casualties.

One of the major problems with this technology involves the very nature of vaccines. There’s a reason they need to be held in carefully monitored lab refrigerators: they are temperature sensitive. Every hospital and pharmacy that administers vaccines needs to possess a medical grade refrigerator and laboratory freezer. Since vaccines are made using  living viruses, improper storage can lead to their breakdown and cause them to lose effectiveness.

The Average Joe American (or human in general) isn’t going to have access to lab refrigerators and pharmaceutical freezers to keep their own vaccines, even if they don’t necessarily need a professional to administer them. Additionally, transportation through what’s known as the “cold chain” (where vaccines are kept in special vaccine storage refrigerators during their long trips to hospitals and pharmacies) would be impossible to maintain, especially if these patches are being delivered door-to-door. It’s a fascinating — and exciting — idea, but more work needs to be done to answer these questions.

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