All About a New Needle-Free Flu Vaccine Option

Nobody likes going to the doctor for a shot, but Art Hall in particular has always shied away from needles. When he was a child, he contracted double pneumonia and was medicated several times via needles. Each time, though, he continued to get worse until he went into a convulsion. Although he did recover and eventually learned he was allergic to the medicine being used, the incident scarred him. In fact, he skipped his flu shot last year because of an experience the year before in which he had to be given two needle injections, which then caused bruising.  

This year, however, he had a new option, which he was quick to take advantage of: A needle-free injector. Could it encourage more people to get vaccinated? Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everybody ages six months and older get a flu vaccine, only 46 percent of people in that age group got vaccinated during the 2013-2014 flu season. Those numbers are unfortunate, says Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the CDC. “The end result is numerous missed days from work, lots of suffering in schools, and hospitalizations, and deaths that could have been prevented,” he said in a press conference.

The reasons people give for skipping the flu and other vaccines vary widely, but a very common one is fear of needles. A needle-free option might “inspire more people to get vaccinated against the flu.” As a delivery method, the injector can provide whatever vaccine you need.

If you’re between the ages of 18 and 64, you can ask if your healthcare provider offers the needle-free option, which is as effective as the traditional flu shot. Studies still need to be done on children younger than 18 and adults older than 64 – two age groups who have thinner skin – to see if their skin thickness will influence the vaccine’s effectiveness. When the injector touches your skin, you’ll feel some sensation, but it’s so slight you might wonder if you even got it, Hall says. The vaccine then enters your body in less than one-tenth of a second, and as with other delivery methods, won’t be fully effective for another two weeks. And although all vaccine delivery methods can cause side effects, this option carries similar risks as the flu shot administered with a needle. But this new option certainly provides a new form of delivery for needle-phobic individuals.