Drop under tongue could replace needles for flu vaccination

By Mallory Terrence
February 14, 2008


A drop of vaccine that is given under the tongue may one day be available for the flu, a virus that affects 10 to 20 percent of Americans each year.

The sublingual (under the tongue) vaccine has only been tested on mice in Asia but appears to be more effective than current vaccines available to humans.

“It will be a long time before we see this vaccine on the market. But it is promising. If you can do it with one vaccine why not another,” Susan Fitzgerald, head nurse at Cabrini, said.

Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a contagious disease that is spread from an infected person to others. The illness causes fever, headaches, chills, muscle aches and fatigue. On average 200,000 people are hospitalized each year because of the flu but most only experience symptoms for a few days.

When living in tight quarters, like dormitories, the risk of catching the illness is much higher. Doctors suggest getting vaccinated in October or November since the Influenza illness can occur any time from November to May.

“The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention say it’s still a good time to get flu vaccination now,” Fitzgerald, said.

Currently two types of vaccines are available for those looking to avoid the flu. The most common method of giving a vaccine is by injection into the muscle of the arm. More recently a nasal spray, in which the vaccine is sprayed into the nostril, has become available.

“I hate needles, they hurt! Since the flu shot is not mandatory I choose not to get one but if needles could be avoided I would definitely consider getting vaccinated,” Martha Sweigart, a sophomore graphic design major, said.

Fitzgerald believes there would be no question that the rate of students receiving the flu shot would rise if injection could be avoided. “Anything that avoids an injection will increase compliance. People will be more willing to get something that does not involve a shot,” Fitzgerald, said.

Most health insurance does cover the flu shot and it can be given by a primary care doctor, a nurse or pharmacist. The flu shot is available on campus throughout the fall and winter months and is highly recommend to all in the Cabrini community.

Few problems arise from the traditional flu shot; the risk of the vaccine causing serious harm is extremely small. The main concern is that not enough people are being vaccinated due to the route of administration.

In the introductory study of the sublingual flu vaccine, mice were given the vaccine. Then they were later exposed to a severe form of the influenza virus.The animals were fully protected.

Delivering the vaccine under the tongue also prevented viruses from traveling to the central nervous system, which is a rare side effect of the nasal spray vaccine.

“Testing on humans is necessary before learning more about the sublingual route of vaccination. But it would be so helpful in the medical world especially in pediatrics,” Betsy Miller, nurse at Radnor family practice, said.

Mallory Terrence

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