Vaccine-Delivery Innovation for the Needle-Phobic

by Scott E. McFarland, J.D.

It wasn’t long after my coughing and fever started that a nasal swab test from a Phoenix pharmacy confirmed what I’d suspected: Like 7.8 million other Americans (as of this writing), I’d become infected with COVID-19.

Soon, my fever shot up to 101 degrees Fahrenheit, I lost my sense of taste, and I began experiencing night sweats and vivid, lucid, technicolor dreams. While my physician assured me all of this was “normal” for someone experiencing the novel coronavirus infection, the irony was not lost on me: As a healthcare executive and entrepreneur leading a company that is developing needle-free injection technology to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine to the often overlooked population of needle-phobic people, I’d fallen prey to the disease my company is hoping to fight. 

Now that my symptoms have begun to subside, I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect on my illness and how it’s affected my perspective going forward. As a result of my experience with COVID-19, I’m more convinced than ever that we must pursue every means available to ensure that a vaccine is as widely distributed and used as possible, sparing other Americans the pain and suffering I’ve endured. 

A big part of this national effort will be a widespread education campaign to promote the importance of vaccine compliance. A smaller but important part is ensuring that children and adults who are afraid of needles have an option that makes it easy for them to do their part to contribute to vaccine compliance, and that’s where needle-free drug injection technology enters the picture.

Needle Phobia: An Under-Prioritized Healthcare Issue

While many of us may fear needles as children, most typically get over this apprehension to develop some level of comfort with needle-based injections. Nonetheless, needle phobia is a much bigger issue than most people realize.

Needle phobia is a “prevalent yet under-recognized and under-prioritized” issue in healthcare, according the journal Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Citing a number of previous studies, researchers estimated that fear of needles affects between 33% and 63% of children and 14% to 38% of adults, contributing to “negative experiences” with needle procedures and healthcare for patients, caregivers and medical providers. 

Needle phobia generally begins in childhood and in many cases contributes to negative health issues across the lifespans of those who experience it. Although some children and adults who suffer from needle phobia find ways to cope with their fear to successfully undergo needle procedures, many others face challenges in overcoming that anxiety, leading them to respond in ways that interfere with medical providers’ ability to properly perform these procedures, such as flailing of limbs and attempting to escape.

Needle-Free Technology

For the needle phobic, needle-free injection technology represents an alternative to traditional needles and syringes that holds the potential to improve vaccine adherence. Here’s how it works: A cartridge containing liquid medication is loaded into a metal, cylindrical-shaped delivery device. The device’s tip is then placed on a patient’s skin, creating an airtight seal. To use the device, a medical professional simply clicks a button on one end, and the liquid medication is dispersed through the patient’s pores, without a sharp object piercing the skin. Once the device is approved by regulators (it currently is pending FDA approval), we believe needle-phobic individuals will welcome a new option to help them obtain vaccinations with reduced stress and anxiety.

As my own experience with coronavirus recedes further into the rearview mirror, I cannot stress enough the importance of following key guidelines around social distancing and mask-wearing to help minimize the virus’ impact on all of us. By helping boost adherence rates for needle-phobic patients, needle-free technology represents a similar option for reducing COVID-19’s spread. 

We’re proud to be a small Phoenix company trying to do our part. 

Scott E. McFarland, J.D., serves as CEO of IntegriMedical LLC. An actively practicing intellectual property attorney since 1997, McFarland has held top-level positions at multiple leading healthcare organizations, including the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation, where he served as CEO; Cleveland Clinic, where he served as its first president of Population Health; and Healthways, where he led innovation, product development and product management.

Photo courtesy of IntegriMedical LLC

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