"The emergence of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms and the invasive nature of the surgical procedure raise the need to develop different ways to treat or, preferably, prevent ear infections," said Dr Lauren Bakaletz, director of the Centre for Microbial Pathogenesis in The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
The new vaccine being developed in collaboration with Dr John Clements, at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, was recently tested by placing a droplet of formula on the outer ears of chinchillas and then rubbed into the skin.
The vaccine works by activating cells, which can be found just under the surface of the skin.
When the liquid touches the skin the cells deliver the vaccine to the lymphoid organs, where it can generate an immune response rapidly reducing or eliminating NTHI, one of the bacteria commonly responsible for ear infections, from the nose and ears.
Bakaletz said that it was extremely effective, and that her research team was excited about the ability to immunize without needles.
"These studies lay the foundation for an effective, yet simple, inexpensive and potentially transformative way to deliver vaccines," said Bakaletz.
"It's our hope the method of applying the vaccine to the skin will allow us to distribute it to some of the poorest children in the world," she added.
In addition to protecting against ear infections, the research could have important implications for the prevention of other diseases of the respiratory tract caused by NTHI.