The past 18 months have highlighted the vital role pharmaceutical distribution plays in the wider medical world, as we have progressed from the start of a pandemic to the widespread distribution of a vaccine.
According to the most recent government data, over 48m people have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and 43m have received their second, which means that nearly 89 per cent of the adult population has received at least one dose.
However, what it has also highlighted is the need for a better alternative for delivering vaccinations than the tried and tested hypodermic needle.
Researchers believe they may have found this solution in the form of microneedles.
The First Vaccinations
Whilst the first successful injection was administrated in 1844 by Francis Rynd, the idea of intravenous delivery was known as early as Ancient Greece, where they observed why weapons laced with poison and snakebites would kill quicker than people who drank the same amount of poison.
Injections were the first and primary method of delivering vaccinations from the very start, with one of the only major exceptions being an attempt at an oral polio vaccine that was delivered via sugar cube.
Throughout the entirety of human history since the first vaccine, needles have been the delivery medium, and that has caused major problems for a few people.
Needles need to be administered and more importantly disposed of by a doctor, as a used needle is a piece of hazardous waste that could potentially spread disease. This was a problem for a very long time for people with diabetes, as regular insulin injections would need to be carefully disposed of.
As well as this, one barrier to vaccine take-up is a specific type of aichmophobia or fear of needles, which causes 22 per cent of the adult population to be irrationally scared of injection, with up to 10 per cent of the population even passing out as a result.
An alternative that used fewer materials, had less waste and was less painful to deliver would cause a revolution in vaccination takeup, and the technology behind it already exists.
Microneedle Vaccine Delivery
Microneedles are a series of microscopic needles that are just large enough to piece the topmost layer of the skin, allowing a medicine or vaccine to enter the body, much in the same way a hypodermic needle does but without feeling it.
In some cases, the microneedles are made out of the drug that is being delivered, although in other cases they are made of polymers, metal or silicone.
These needles are attached to a stamp or a patch that is applied to a patient’s skin and given time to allow the medical payload to soak into the skin.
It works similarly to transdermal patches, such as those used for contraception or to deliver nicotine. However, whilst a patch sticks to the skin and allows the skin to absorb the medication directly, microneedles speed up the process.
Microneedles would produce far less hazardous waste, are significantly less painful and reduce the risk of infection in puncture wounds.
However, at present they do require careful precision to apply, otherwise, they can break and leak onto a person’s skin, wasting the medication.