Have you been postponing getting that vaccine or flu shot? Does going to the doctor fill you with dread over the possibility the visit might require getting injected with a long needle? Well now you can stop worrying.
A new device that uses needle-free injection technology uses a high velocity stream of liquid that delivers vaccines or medications without piercing the skin.
Kathleen Callendar is the 69-year-old founder of PharmJet, a startup company based in Golden, Colorado that produces these gadgets. She told CNN-Money that the process takes less than one-third of a second and while it may not be entirely painless, it is more gentle than a needle and feels "like a tiny rubber band snapping against you."
Analysts say PharmaJet's spring-powered device has big potential, and not just for people who are afraid of needles. They estimate 16 billion injections are given each year in developing countries and that in some cases the needles are reused or improperly thrown away. In those situations vaccines meant to prevent diseases end up spreading them instead.
Carlos Castillo-Solorzano is a doctor with the immunization unit of the Pan American Health Organization, which is affiliated with the United Nations and based in Washington, D.C. He's quoted by CNN-Money as saying research on developing needle-free devices has been ongoing for decades. But it has always been too expensive for broad usage particularly in the developing countries where they're most needed.
PharmaJet won federal clearance for its first product in early 2009, following a rigorous U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval process that included testing injectors more than 30,000 times each and exposing them to extreme heat and humidity. Last year, the company's needle-free injector was used to give seasonal flu and H1N1 shots in a handful of public clinics in New Jersey.
In an interview with CNN-Money, Herbert Yardley, health officer at the Department of Environmental and Public Health Services in New Jersey's Sussex County, says it's now in "the second year and we have people asking for the needleless option." Yardley adds that he doesn't like needles "and this way, we don't have to pay for medical waste disposal or worry about needle-stick injuries."
Yardley says that more than 10 clinics in his county now offer needle-free injections using PharmaJet technology. About 30% of patients opt for the needle-free shot. Yardley sees it as the wave of future.â€
According to CNN-Money, this year, around 40 pilot programs using PharmaJet injectors were launched across the United States and abroad. Customers include American pharmacy chain The Little Clinic and Los Angeles County's public health clinics, along with Brazil's Ministry of Health, which has rolled out needle-free injections in the Sao Paulo region. PharmaJet won't disclose how much revenue it's pulling in at the moment, but says executives say sales for the first quarter of 2010 topped their revenue for all of 2009.
The company still has a long way to go. For starters, it's not the only needle-free solution on the market. Competitors, say CNN-Money, include MedImmune, which has developed a nasal spray vaccine, and Bioject, maker of a needle-free gadget powered by a carbon dioxide cartridge.
And though PharmaJet's durable injectors are cheaper than the competition, they're still not cheap enough for use in the developing world. Currently, PharmaJet injectors -- which can be reused thousands of times -- cost about $100 a pop. The single-use, needle-free syringes feed into the injector cost from 30 cents to $1.
Callendar told CNN-Money that, as production volume rises, the cost of PharmaJet's injectors will drop low enough for it to become a viable option for developing countries.
In the meantime, she's hard at work on getting FDA clearance for a second device: a needle-free injector that uses the same high-velocity technology as its predecessor, but injects medicine into the top layer of skin, rather than penetrating into the muscle.
Scientific studies suggest that a smaller amount of vaccine can be used to get the same antibody effect when drugs are injected this way. If it works, the new device could immunize five people with the same amount of vaccine now used for just one patient.