For those of us living in rich countries that have easily accessible vaccinations, needle-less vaccines are not going to change much (though it would be nice to get a shot without the “shot” part). But for millions of others, this is a big deal.
I still remember the awful story in a local newspaper when I was in Botswana ten years ago about dozens of kids – it could have even been over 100, if I recall correctly – who were infected with HIV because of a used needle.
We don’t hear much about these stories where we are, but when you’re in poorer countries, you hear about them far more often.
The Gates Foundation is doing some good work around the world, and this is one of their programs that could help millions.
Live vaccines—which contain active viruses or bacteria—are notoriously hard to deliver in resource-deprived areas because they must be continually refrigerated to keep them viable. However, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers at King’s College London have found a way to administer a dried live vaccine directly to the skin—without needles—that remains effective at room temperature.
Besides solving the problem of refrigeration, needle-less vaccine delivery eliminates a host of other issues: the pain of injections and fear of needles that keep some people from being immunized, the risk of needle contamination with blood-borne illnesses like HIV, and the cost of purchasing many thousands of sterilized hypodermic needles.
If the technology becomes commonplace, it could also better the lives of millions who use needles every day to check their blood sugar levels, administer insulin, and inject anti-inflammatory drugs. In fact, clinical trials of a peptide-based vaccine for type 1 diabetes, led by Professor Mark Peakman of King’s College London, dovetail with these efforts to find better, less painful ways to administer life-saving drugs.