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Needle-free vaccines: NPR’s story is solid effort, but needed more on the medical evidence behind the claims


3 Star



Beyond The Nasty Needle: Trying To Make Vaccines More Comfy And Convenient

Our Review Summary

This story summarizes three different alternatives to the classic needle-and-syringe delivery method for vaccinations.

The story does some things well; it discusses price and effectiveness for some of the options under research. But there were some holes in the story when it came to discussing the medical evidence–and its limitations. We also think the story would have been stronger with an independent viewpoint.


Why This Matters

Parents in particular are hopeful that one day vaccines will be delivered without needles, and many will likely read this story with high interest. They need to know how solid the evidence is for these new alternatives in a consistent way.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


The article provides information about the cost of both the flu vaccine patch and the jet-injector. The cost of giving flu vaccine by nasal spray isn’t provided.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The quantification of benefits in this article is a mixed bag. The description of the Georgia Institute of Technology flu patch study does provide some information about benefits of this vaccine delivery methods, but there is no description of the measured benefits of the jet injectors. The most complete comparative data on the benefits of the vaccine delivery method are in the briefer discussion of nasal spray. There we learn that the CDC reported the effectiveness of the spray was only 3 percent, so low that “no protective benefit could be measured” for children ages 2 to 17. The effectiveness of the flu shot was about 63% for the same age group. We would have liked to have seen this kind of discussion for all three alternatives in the story.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The focus of the article headline is convenience and comfort. It follows through on that focus by doing a fairly good job of addressing side effects of the various delivery mechanisms, though again, the information is somewhat uneven. The most thorough description of harms is provided in the flu patch section of the story, where we learn that participants in the clinical trial had some redness, itching and tenderness but no serious side effects. About the jet injection we learn it is much less painful than when it was used for smallpox vaccination back in the 1960s. The story also informs us that nozzles are changed between patients so the former problem with infection from using the same equipment has been resolved. No other harms (like the redness and itching associated with the patch, for example) are mentioned. The section of the story on nasal spray vaccines is short, and it doesn’t include any information about side effects or harms.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

For the experimental flu patch, readers learn this was a randomized controlled trial that lasted six months, enrolling 100 people in three different groups. But, it was a phase 1 trial, meaning it’s preliminary evidence–that should have been made clear, particularly as that explains why it’s hard to know how effective it is, for now.

There’s no information about the research behind the jet injection techniques. Regarding the nasal spray, a recent study is mentioned but the research design is only implied. This is a bit strange considering that AstraZeneca, the producer of the product, says that evidence from several other studies contradicts the CDC’s conclusion. In a case like that, readers need more information.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The headline “Beyond the Nasty Needle” seems over the top. Still, it’s true that some people are pathologically afraid of needles, and the rest of the headline and article don’t approach the issue that dramatically.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The article mentions funders for all of the efforts described. But there is no independent source–everyone in the story seems to be connected to a commercial product.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


This story is all about alternatives. In places it could provide more complete information, as noted above, but it definitely considers several options.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


Overall, this story adequately addresses availability. It explains that flu patches aren’t yet available on the market; it may be some time until readers can walk down to the corner pharmacy and buy their own flu patch over the counter. The jet injection and nasal spray are described as already widely available.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The main focus of the story–the possibility that flu vaccine could be delivered via a micro-needle patch–comes across as an exciting new development. In actuality, the Georgia Institute of Technology team made that announcement three years ago. The new development this time around is that the immune response of study participants who used the patch was comparable to those who received a traditional injection.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


This story does not appear to rely on a news release.

Total Score: 6 of 10 Satisfactory


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