Painless ‘flu’ jabs: is fear of needles a thing of the past?

Are you afraid of needles? Ever avoided getting the flu jab because of needle phobia?  You’re not alone.  But this may become a fear of the past as a new, painless injection is being developed.

How can an injection be painless?

So how does it work? The new design looks like a normal sticking plaster that is placed on the skin. However, it has tiny hair-like needles on the sticky surface. In fact, they’re so small you’d need a microscope to see them. These puncture the very top layer of skin painlessly with the vaccine (flu jab). Normally, jabs given with needles are injected much deeper into the muscle which is why they hurt so much.

The plaster was tested in trials on volunteers and was found to be  just as effective as using a needle to inject the vaccine. The volunteers did have some side effects such as skin irritation and itching but these disappeared after a couple of days. Overall they found it much better and painless compared to normal vaccinations.  In fact, it is so easy to use that in future people could potentially buy them over the counter and apply the plaster themselves.  Also, because it doesn’t need to be kept cool in a fridge like the current flu vaccine, it could be potentially used in developing countries as well. However, it is currently only being developed for the flu jab rather than others, such as travel vaccinations.

Influenza: a deadly killer

Vaccinations are pretty important and can be life-saving.  Influenza or ‘flu’ may not seem like such a big deal.  Some people may only experience mild symptoms such as headache, high temperature, muscle aches and a sore throat.  However for others, especially those with underlying health problems, young children and the elderly (and sometimes pregnancy), it can be deadly serious.  They can develop complications such as meningitis, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) and lung infections.  These can be fatal. The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show just over half a million people died from influenza in the UK in 2015.

For children, vaccinations also prevent many childhood illnesses such as measles, mumps and rubella that can have devastating long-term consequences.

How does the flu jab work?

How does the vaccine (flu jab) work? The flu is caused by a virus that infects our body. The flu vaccine contains a deactivated or ‘killed’ flu virus. This means it can’t cause flu itself. When it is injected it makes your body produce antibodies which are part of your body’s defence system. These antibodies recognise and kill germs such as the flu virus. If you get infected with flu after you’ve had the vaccine, your body can recognise the virus and can fight against it.

The flu vaccine is available every year. This is because there are many different types of flu that change all the time. Also, your body becomes less able to defend itself against flu over time after having the flu jab. Being vaccinated doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get flu, but it makes it less likely. If you do get the flu, your symptoms won’t be as bad and or last as long if you’ve had the vaccine.

A needle-free future?

So things are looking promising. However, don’t start asking for your doctor for the new jab just yet. This new technique is still in the early stages of development. It still needs to go through more clinical trials to make sure it is suitable for public use.  But for people who put off their flu jab because of fear of needles, this pain-free alternative looks promising for the future.

Should you be having the flu vaccine? Find out here.

For more information on childhood vaccinations click here.

Did you know there is already a needle-free alternative for children? Click here for more details.

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Any opinions above are the author’s alone and may not represent those of his/her affiliations. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing.  All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of the sample surveyed. An online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice. 

Image courtesy of Pixabay

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