Soluble needles for mass jabs24th August 2010
The rate of infections from vaccinations in developing countries could be cut dramatically with the use of tiny needles that administer an anti-microbial dose alongside the vaccine when they dissolve in the skin.
Scientists in the United States have developed the micro-needles to be applied as a skin patch.
The needles use a biodegradable polymer similar to those used in self-dissolving suture thread, which has already been approved by the US drug regulator, the Food and Drug Administration.
The materials will dissolve in the skin within days, and the needles could be a boon to healthcare workers administering mass immunisation programmes where speed is important, and there is a lack of trained staff.
The anti-microbial agent will also help ensure that patients are protected against local infection caused by punctured skin.
The approach would remove the need to swab the vaccination site with alcohol before administering a jab, a stage sometimes omitted in developing countries anyway.
Team leader Roger Narayan, of North Carolina State University, said that vaccines which puncture the skin can create new paths for infection.
Narayan said that the new micro-needle along with its anti-microbials provided an additional layer of protection, especially where trained staff were unavailable to carry out vaccination programmes.
The needles are small coin-sized structures like a patch or band-aid that is stuck to the skin.
Mass immunisation campaigns are used in the prevention of routine childhood diseases, but also for outbreaks like SARS and influenza pandemics.
They would be particularly useful in situations large numbers of vaccines have to be prepared quickly.
Infection from needles have decreased dramatically with the widespread use of sterilised disposable syringes.
But the lack of qualified healthcare workers is a matter of grave concern in cases such as the flu pandemic, according to international health experts.
The pricing of the needles and their ease of delivery and manufacture will also affect their usefulness, according to a spokesperson for international medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières.
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