August 23, 2012
If a flu pandemic breaks out, the last thing the government wants is for people to rush to hospitals and doctors' offices to get vaccinated among lots of already sick people. To prevent such a scenario, a self-administered flu vaccine is being developed that could be mailed out to the masses.
The vaccine, developed by the Infectious Disease Research Institute, will start human trials next month and is designed to protect against H5N1, one of the most deadly strains of bird flu. While H5N1 kills about 80 percent of people who contract it, so far it is unable to spread from person to person.
Scientists started a political firestorm earlier this year after they published a paper proving they could manipulate the virus so that it could spread from ferret to ferret, animals that are often used to model the human immune system.
If H5N1 mutates on its own so that it can be spread among humans, doctors are worried that standard vaccine dispensaries, such as hospitals and doctors offices, will become a prime location at which to contract the disease. So the Infectious Disease Research Institute is using microneedles—a series of tiny needles that can be applied to a patch—to deliver the vaccine. A microneedle vaccine could be easily self-administered.
"The idea is to send it through the mail as a patch that's self-assembled and stable," says Darrick Carter, who helped develop the vaccine. "We could stop people from going to a hospital where there's a bunch of sick people."
Sending a vaccine through the mail could also help keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed during a pandemic. Carter says that during the swine flu pandemic a few years ago, hospitals came close to having to turn patients wanting a vaccine away.
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