The coronavirus is a respiratory virus, and it makes us sick by latching onto the cells in our upper respiratory tract, including our nose and throat. It should come as no surprise, then, that scientists are working on a nasal COVID-19 vaccine to stop the disease right where it starts.
The current injectable vaccines – including Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson in the US – have proved to be wildly effective at preventing severe disease and have saved roughly 20 million lives globally during the pandemic, according to an estimate by researchers at the Imperial College London. (The newly authorized would've been left out of this equation.) But as we learned during the delta surge last summer, the available vaccines do not block all COVID-19 infections, especially as the virus mutates into more contagious forms.
Researchers propose that nasal vaccines, however, may stand a better chance of blocking infections and making people less contagious by working in the mucosa (the lining of the nose). Dr. Joel Ernst, professor of medicine and chief of the division of experimental medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, explained some of the benefits to CNET's Abrar Al-Heeti.
"A nasal vaccine will induce an immune response all over the body too, but it's actually concentrated in the upper respiratory tract where the COVID virus, the SARS-COV2 virus, enters," Ernst said.
Nasal vaccines (coined "nasal spritzes" by Scientific American) have other benefits, including being easier to administer (there's no needle hazard or needle learning curve) and offering a more palatable approach to immunity for the approximately one out of 10 Americans with a needle phobia.
There is no nasal COVID-19 vaccine up for authorization on the US market right now, but research looks promising. There are numerous nasal COVID-19 vaccines in development, according to Ernst, but most are very early in the trial stage. One study done on mice from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found that the potency of nasal vaccination waned at about the same rate as the potency of mRNA vaccination (Moderna and Pfizer). But nasal vaccines started working faster than the injectable vaccines.
And the road to a nasal COVID-19 vaccine being accepted has already been partly smoothed over by the nasal flu vaccine on the market, FluMist Quadrivalent.
Ernst said that many researchers are looking at nasal vaccines as boosters, and they carry some production challenges. But the future of nasal COVID-19 vaccines looks fairly bright.
Besides development challenges, the fact that most people now have some immunity to COVID-19 either through vaccination or infection makes it difficult to test an entirely new vaccine in clinical trials, Ernst explained. While we might need to wait a year or two for clinical trials and authorization in order for nasal vaccines to hit the market: "I think the prospects are pretty good that we're going to have nasal vaccines," Ernst said.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.