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UNC developing patch that would allow vaccinations without needles

Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 10:19 AM EDT
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – COVID-19 shots, flu shots, childhood vaccines — even if people know they’re needed, many aren’t a big fan of actually getting shots. One day, people may be able to get vaccines without pain thanks to some new technology developed at UNC.

For James Todd, vaccines come with anxiety.

“I’m not too fond of them. I actually have needle-phobia,” he explained.

He’s not alone. According to the CDC, as many as a quarter of adults and most children have a fear of needles. For some, the fear is so severe it prevents them from getting vaccines. But one day, needles, at least the ones people are used to, may not be necessary.

Dr. Joseph DeSimone worked at UNC for 30 years. He’s at Stanford now, but he and his colleagues are still working with UNC researchers on a tiny patch that can deliver vaccines when applied to the skin.

“Our approach was to directly 3-D print the microneedles using a breakthrough in 3-D printing that we pioneered when I was in Chapel Hill,” he said.

The microneedles on the patch are so small they can hardly be felt.

“It’s pain-free and anxiety-free,” DeSimone said, adding that the patch is also more effective than traditional shots. “We have 100 to 1,000 times more of the targeted immune cells in the dermis of our skin than we do in our muscle.”

That means each person would require a smaller amount of vaccine. It also wouldn’t need to be kept as cold as vaccines that are used in liquid form.

“When you think about global access, you are going to need things like that,” DeSimone said.

Right now, the patch is being tested on animals. DeSimone said the results are promising, and within five years, he expects people could be regularly using the patches.

“They can be self-administered. You wouldn’t need a health care worker,” he said. “They could be delivered by UPS or Amazon.”

For Todd, that would mean a lot less anxiety leading up to a shot.

“That would be fantastic,” he said. “That would be truly amazing.”

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