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Vaccine patch to protect against measles shows ‘promising results’

Researchers have found that the patches could replace measles and rubella injections as a ‘pain-free and safer’ alternative
Vaccine patches could be safer and more effective than measle jabs

Vaccine patches could offer a ‘safe and effective’ alternative to injected measles and rubella vaccinations, says new research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

The microarray patches are small plaster-like devices packed with microscopic needles that lightly puncture the skin. The research found that giving the vaccine by patch induced an immune response that was as strong as when it was administered by syringe.

‘These are extremely promising results which have generated a lot of excitement,’ said paediatrician Professor Ed Clarke, vaccine and immunity lead at the LSHTM Medical Research Council (MRC) unit in the Gambia.

‘They demonstrate for the first time that vaccines can be safely and effectively given to babies and young children using microarray-patch technology,’ he said.

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The research was conducted in the Gambia to test whether the patches could overcome barriers in low-income and middle-income countries.

The clinical trials gave 45 healthy adults, 120 toddlers and 120 babies the same measles and rubella vaccine, either through a microarray patch or a conventional injection.

After one dose through the patch, more than 90% of babies were protected against measles and all infants against rubella, showing equal efficacy to injections.

The research said the patch has other advantages. It is pain-free, easier to transport and store because it does not require refrigeration, and people with minimal training can administer it, rather than doctors and nurses. Patches also reduce the risk of diseases caused by contaminated needles.

The researchers hope that the new immunisation technology could stem gaps in global vaccine uptake.

Globally, in 2022, about 83% of children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday - the lowest since 2008, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Even in countries such as the UK where there is no shortage of resources, researchers say the patches could be more ‘convenient and attractive’.

This is especially crucial given that new NHS England figures show a sharp rise in measles cases in the UK, with almost 900 cases recorded in four months this year, up from a total of 368 cases detected in 2023. Areas with socio-economic deprivation have particularly low measles vaccination rates.

‘The positive results from this study are quite gratifying to us as a team,’ said Dr Ikechukwu Adigweme, co-researcher from the MRC in the Gambia. ‘We hope this is an important step in the march towards greater vaccine equity among disadvantaged populations,’ he said.

But the researchers have cautioned that the new immunisation method is still some years away and could take three to four years to go through late-stage trials, licensure and roll-out.

The LSHTM has planned larger trials among young unvaccinated children, to see whether the patches could be rolled out more widely.