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Could Implanted Pellets Replace Booster Shots?

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Smallpox_vaccineThe belief among some parents groups that vaccines are bad for children might best be explained as a result of parents’ discomfort watching their children cry as they are stuck with a needle. It can be hard to adhere to the abstractions of science when faced with a child’s tears.

Well, what if doctors could deliver a no-tears vaccine? That’s what some researchers at the University of Freiburg, in Germany, are working toward. In a recent paper, they demonstrated that a small pellet could be implanted under the skin along with an injected vaccine. Later, instead of a booster shot, a pill taken orally would signal the pellet to release a second dose.

Child_receiving_rabies_vaccineEliminating all booster shots would reduce the number of shots babies get by two-thirds, according to CDC recommendations.

And in developing countries, patients could be sent home with instructions to take the signal pill at a certain time, improving compliance.

The researchers used a pellet made of hydrogel, a polymer similar in texture to human tissue, to hold the second dose. This particular hydrogel was formulated to respond to fluorescein, an organic compound which is already FDA-approved for use in humans. An oral dose of fluorescein stimulated the pellet to release its vaccine payload.

A booster dose of a vaccine against the human papillomavirus delivered this way was as effective in mice as one injected.

More research is needed before the Russian nesting doll-styled vaccine cycles make it to the pediatrician’s office. But with a functional vaccine and a trigger that’s already been approved, the method seems likely to work for humans with some adjustments.

Images: James Gathany, CDC via Wikimedia Commons; Commonwealth Fund via Wikimedia Commons

Discussion — One Response

  • jambo January 21, 2014 on 6:17 pm

    Perhaps they could use several layers and put all the vaccines and booster shots a child needs in a single pill?

    It may be necessary to develop some kind of internet connected electronic pill box that reminds the parent to give that many pills, and alerts the clinic if a pill box container hasn’t been opened by the day the pill should have been administered, so they can give the parent a reminder text and call.