The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is currently researching alternatives to getting vaccinations without having to get a shot.
On their website, they claim, “instead of a dreaded injection with a needle, someday getting vaccinated against disease may be as pleasant as drinking a yogurt smoothie.”
The alternative they’ve developed is an oral vaccine made of probiotics (the healthy bacteria in dairy).
At first, I was skeptical. Although I don’t particularly like to get shots, I’ll do so because it means protecting myself from things like influenza and HPV. However, the research claims “this new generation vaccine has big benefits beyond eliminating the “Ouch!” factor.”
Here are some of the key benefits of the new oral vaccine:
- Probiotics are natural, and replace the chemicals found in typical shots which often give unwanted side effects such as nausea or dizziness depending on the vaccine.
- The probiotic oral vaccine is more cost effective to produce, which is important because according to Discovery Medicine, “Vaccine-preventable diseases are still responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million children under the age of 5 years annually, mostly in developing countries”
- By swallowing a vaccine instead of injecting it into a muscle, Associate Professor of Medicine Mansour Mohamadzadeh claims, “you are able to harness the full power of the body’s primary immune force, which is located in the small intestine.”
“You swallow the vaccine, and the bacteria colonize your intestine and start to produce the vaccine in your gut,” Mohamadzadeh said. “Then it’s quickly dispatched throughout your body. If you can activate the immune system in your gut, you get a much more powerful immune response than by injecting it.”
Mohamadzadeh and his team at Northwestern conduct an experiment where they fed mice their oral anthrax vaccine, and then exposed them to anthrax bacteria. And the hard end point they published was impressive, with eighty percent of the exposed mice surviving.
In conclusion, the experiment proved “the immune response was higher and more robust than with the injected vaccine,” said Mohamadzadeh.
While the results from this experiment seem promising, only the success rate was published, which poses some serious questions. This leaves an insurmountable amount of unknown variables that could discount the findings of this experiment.
For example, were all the mice that were exposed to the vaccine the same age and gender, or was there a variety? Was there a control group? Without more information it would be easy to write the results of this study off as a false positive.
Without more information on this study, it’s difficult to determine if the results are an indicator of how the oral vaccine works.
However, The National Institute of Health remains optimistic, and calls this possible vaccine break through “the use of probiotic bacteria (…) an exciting new approach.”
Only time will tell if the probiotic oral vaccine is the next big thing.