Does your child date needles? If so, the future is bright. Ryan Duncan, reports on the future of vaccination technology in his Year 9 Science Research and Writing Task. Writing for the audience of Popular Science Magazine, Ryan has produced an elegant piece of writing. Read more
Vaccination Technology Will be Much Different in the Future:
Vaccination can hurt and cause severe emotional distress, especially for those with a fear of needles. It can be terrifying. Yet with technology advancing, this fear will likely become redundant as time passes by. In ancient times, vaccination was limited to the smallpox immunisation technique of variolation – the insertion of smallpox scab tissue into the nasal cavity. Since then it has improved vastly with Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccine, synthesised from the cowpox virus, being invented in 1796. Science has made noticeable progress in this field, not only in administration but also with the development of other vaccines for other pathogens. Let’s find out how new vaccine administration technologies such as skin patches and oral medicines along with genetic modification will change how we hear the word ‘vaccination’ in the future.
When you think of vaccination, you’d probably think of those times going to the doctor each year and getting a needle stuck in your arm. For some, this isn’t a problem, but for others it’s not so pleasant. Administration of a vaccine is an important part of inoculation, vaccination through injection with a needle is the most common method, though interestingly the most objected to. Science has recognised this issue and has indeed responded with new techniques to administer vaccines such as transdermal patches; small squares of adhesive cloth that contain the vaccine. Before their application to inoculation, transdermal patches were used to administer drugs that could be absorbed through the skin. Based on this design, the newer ‘microneedle’ transdermal patch can painlessly apply the vaccine with 100 650μm needles on its surface. Upon testing this method 48 out of 50 people said that there was no pain at all; but if you are a part of this 4% minority, other needleless methods exist, such as oral inoculation.
Oral vaccines are a relatively new concept, they allow ease of inoculation with their design avoiding pain entirely. With new vaccine development methods being used, scientists are able to make working orally-consumable pills containing the vaccine for influenza, tuberculosis and other disease-causing pathogens. With this new way of deliverance, poorer countries will be able to immunise more efficiently and cost-effectively; meaning eradication of disease will, perhaps, occur more commonly in third-world nations. This new method of vaccination is based on bacillus spores, which can be administered via a pill, a consumable liquid or a soluble film placed under the tongue. As a result of this new technology, oral vaccines can be transported with ease as they do not need to be kept in a ‘cold-chain’ environment (between 2° to 8°C). Genetic modification has further increased the efficacy of vaccines and has completely overturned the vaccine development industry with ground-breaking discoveries.
Genetic modification of infectious pathogens has proven a worthwhile path to investigate due to its proven effectiveness in stimulating the adaptive immune system. Normal vaccine production consists of the virus being either killed or weakened substantially so that the immune system can develop antibodies to defend itself with. This allows for the body to remember the virus and defend against potential, later attacks. Genetic modification would completely remove the destructive element of the virus and have an unweakened, harmless pathogen roam the bloodstream waiting for the body to defend itself and prepare for stronger, future attacks. DNA vaccines are another concept entirely, though they still are based in genetic modification. Instead of the virus replicating itself entirely, the DNA injected only produces antigens, which are small proteins that usually line the edge of viruses, but are harmless without the full pathogen. This means that the body can develop a defence without actually fighting the virus by creating antibodies that counteract the introduced antigens, and that stay in the blood long after the vaccine.
There’s no question that vaccine technology will continue to advance, it’s simply a debate on where it will advance to. More comfortable and easily accessible vaccination methods are being developed because that’s what the market wants. The microneedle patch and consumable vaccines are examples of both economic favourability and personal comfortability. What’s inside the vaccine matters too, if not more; that’s why new techniques like genetic engineering, allow for a range of new ways to successfully inoculate someone. Vaccine technology is advancing, quickly, and what the future holds will look much different to what you see today.