Bypass the shot and slap on a patch instead - flu vaccines are moving away from the annual (yet necessary) injection so many of us have come to dread.  

Though the patch contains around fifty teeny-tiny microneedles that disseminate the vaccine, it's essentially painless - the needles far too small to do any real damage. Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT) have been developing the patch with the hope that it ups vaccination rates, thanks to painless application. They're also hoping to make them available for sale in pharmacies or via mail order, removing the hassle of going to the doctor for an injection. "People could take them home and apply them to the whole family," said Mark Prausnitz, a professor at the GIT's School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. "We want to get more people vaccinated, and we want to relieve health care professionals from the burden of giving these millions of vaccinations." Unlike flu shots, which need to be refrigerated, the patch could be sold from pharmacy shelves.

The development of the patch is still in the embryonic phase, with the recent GIT study primarily observing whether or not people had difficulty administering the patch on their person. As such, the patches used in the research delivered a saline solution as opposed to traditional flu medicine.

The study comprised of 91 participants from the Atlanta area, each of whom applied three patches to themselves, while a professional applied a fourth. Participants also received saline injections to compare the sensation of the delivery methods. Adhesion of the patch was found to be easier once the researchers incorporated a clicking sound when the patch was successfully attached. Though some struggled with administering the patch on the first try, eventually all participants were able to apply it. 

The study's participants were required to rank the pain of both the patch and the shot on a scale of 1 to 100, with the patch barely scraping in at an average score of 1.5. The injection, on the other hand, had an average score of 15. It's also thought the patch method of delivery would be ideal for children (and adults who shy away from needles), with trial participant Christy White enthusiastic about its potential. "It was awesome," said White to NBC News. "It did not hurt, not at all... I was thinking about kids. If they could have their vaccines with this little patchy thing, it would be great for the kids."

Prausnitz's team is eager to start testing the actual medicine integral to the patch technology. They're hoping to gauge the patch's efficacy in reducing the incidence of flu, as well as rates of patch-over-shot adoption. Prausnitz estimates that the patch would be made available in around five years, assuming further studies, trials, and manufacture proceed according to plan. 

The study was published in medical journal Vaccine on February 11 2014. 

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