With the COVID-19 vaccines bringing an end to the global pandemic within our sights, one of the problems has been simply getting the shots into arms; the more people vaccinated the faster things can return back to normal.  It would stand to reason that the faster we can get this accomplished the better. If only there was a way to speed up the process.

People of a certain age will most-definitely remember a medical tool called the jet injector (or vaccine gun); these apparatuses were more-commonly seen in military settings or at mass-vaccine set-ups. They worked by using pneumatic (air) to supply a vaccine under the skin without a needle.  Essentially, the jet injector "shot" the vaccine into the skin - using compressed air.  This method allowed a fast, assembly-line-style of vaccinations.  If you remember the Swine Flu in 1976 - and the massive community vaccination events, the jet injector made these possible.

So why aren't we using jet injectors to supply the COVID-19 vaccine?  If we're looking to vaccinate as many people as possible - as fast as possible - wouldn't this be a viable method of doing that?

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The answer to this question comes down to contamination issues.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the International Standards Organization, the jet injector was discontinued based off of their recommendations.  While the jet injector didn't use a needle to administer the vaccine, it did present its own forms of cross-contamination.  Primarily there were four ways this occurred:

  • Splash back:  This happens because the jet stream of the vaccine fluid splashes back at the jet injector nozzle, where it can be "re-injected" to someone else - the next time it's used.
  • Fluid suck back: Similar to splash back, fluid suck back happens when left-over fluid from one dose (either vaccine or blood) is pulled back into the nozzle of the jet injector - where it mixes and is then injected into the next person the next time the injector is used.
  • Retrograde Flow: This is also similar to the preceding two methods.  However, with retrograde flow, the vaccine that was injected mixes with body fluids and is then sucked back into the jet injector - where it will be injected into the next person.
  • Bacteria contamination:  In this instance, the concern wasn't vaccine or body fluid being mixed and injected into someone else - it was bacteria that was left on the end of the injector gun; while a single-use needle would start sterile, the multi-use injector wouldn't be cleaned in between uses and any form of bacteria that was present would be left to accumulate and be transmitted from person to person.

To solve these three issues, the manufacturers of jet injectors did work to make alterations to their equipment.  One form of alteration added a one-time-use protective end to the jet injector - which needed to be changed with every use.  The other involved the use of a cartridge.

While the CDC does report that jet injectors are still approved for use with a limited number of vaccines, their wide-spread use ended as the 1970's evolved into the 1980's.  As far as their use during this current pandemic situation, don't look for it to happen any time soon.

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