Afraid of the Flu Shot? Try a Smaller Needle

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Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Sanofi Pasteur's Fluzone Intradermal is less than a tenth of an inch long, the first flu vaccine that works by injecting just into the skin. The new needle is about as long as a single drop of fluid.

Flu vaccine makers began shipping on Monday a new form of the annual flu shot, with a significantly shorter needle. The new vaccine should make it easier for people with a fear of needles to get immunized, and in the event of a shortage, may even allow doctors to vaccinate more people.

While the typical flu vaccine uses a 1-in. to 1.5-in. needle, the new Fluzone Intradermal influenza vaccine comes with an ultrafine needle that’s 90% smaller, at just 0.06 in. Both vaccines contain the same antigens, which help the immune system to protect against the three commonly circulating influenza strains this season.

But because of its formulation, the new vaccine contains 40% less antigen material than the regular flu vaccine. That means the same amount of antigen can be used to make more doses of the intradermal vaccine, a useful feature if a flu-shot shortage were to occur this season.

Otherwise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes on its website, the intradermal flu vaccine works the same way as the longer-needled version, and provides the same immune response. Sanofi-Pasteur, which makes both, says the intradermal vaccine should be available wherever flu shots are given — at doctors’ offices and some retail pharmacies around the nation. Supplies may be limited, however, since shipments have just begun.

Unfortunately for kids, the short-needle shot, which was licensed for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May, is approved only for adults aged 18 to 64.

Alice Park is a writer at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @aliceparkny. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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