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Health

What if the future of vaccines relied on a patch instead of a shot?

We know that vaccines work, but unfortunately they are not always accessible to the people who need them the most. Many vaccines require a doctor or nurse to administer a shot, or must be refrigerated to be effective. In remote villages these resources are not always available, and families have to travel long distances to access centralized healthcare. 

But what if we could eliminate these barriers to access?

At Georgia Tech, they are developing a measles vaccine that will do just that, and they are doing it by changing how the vaccine is delivered to the body. Instead of administering a shot, the measles vaccine would come from a nickel-sized patch. A patch instead of a painful shot? Now that sounds amazing!

Measles body image 1 650.jpg

Photo: Gary Meek, Georgia Tech

This small device is applied by simply pressing the patch onto the skin, and allowing the 100 micro-needles underneath to dissolve. (Wait?! Needles? I thought we just eliminated needles?)

Measles body image 2 650.jpg

Image: Georgia Tech

These micro-needles (yep, they look pretty scary to me) are made from polymer, sugar, and the measles vaccine. As the patch sits on the skin, the needles dissolve and the body absorbs the life-saving medication. According to researchers at Georgia Tech, these micro-needles are so small that they can't be felt and they're painless to apply (phew!).

Best of all, this new technique eliminates a lot of the barriers placed on vaccine distribution due to infrastructure. These micro-needles do not require the same amount of refrigeration as a liquid vaccine, and would be easier to transport to remote areas. Since application is easier, you no longer need the expertise of a doctor or nurse to administer the treatment. Additionally, this method is safer because it does not involved needles or sharps, and would protect healthcare workers from accidental sticks from used or contaminated syringes. 

The CDC says “each day, 400 children are killed by measles complications worldwide,” and twenty million people are affected by measles each year. This new technique “offers great hope of a new tool to reach the world’s children faster, even in the most remote areas.” 

This advancement and technique could be the resource we need to eliminate the measles disease entirely...and maybe painful shots too.