From nasal vaccines to pills: the next defences against Covid

A company called Vaxart has developed an oral tablet that showed promising results in a small trial last month. Photograph: Tanja Ivanova/Getty Images

Analysis: a bivalent vaccine has been approved and research is being carried out into possible pan-coronavirus vaccines

Many people will likely receive Moderna’s new bivalent vaccination, which is intended to protect against both the original Covid strain and the more contagious Omicron variation, when the autumn booster program starts off next month. Vaccination techniques will change as Covid does. Here, we take a peek at some of the upcoming advancements.

Variant-specific boosters

Natural selection has been at work over the past two years, with new strains of Covid developing that are each more contagious and better able to overcome previous immunity than the one before. In order to fight this, vaccine producers have improved vaccinations to better match strains that are currently circulating, with Moderna’s bivalent vaccine being the first to be authorized that concurrently targets two strains (the original variant and Omicron). Additionally being considered is a Pfizer/BioNTech bivalent vaccination. These revised vaccines are valuable for ensuring that those who are most at risk of developing a severe disease stay protected against hospitalization and death (although we have not yet received definitive efficacy data). However, the benefits of administering these vaccines to a larger population are declining because they do not prevent infection and only temporarily halt symptoms of disease.

Nasal vaccines

All of the Covid vaccinations from the first generation increase levels of circulating antibodies. Although this so-called mucosal immunity is the body’s first line of defense against respiratory infections, they do little to generate antibodies in the tissues that line the nose and airways. This is seen as a significant flaw in the existing Covid vaccinations and may help to explain why infection protection is not provided by them. Nasal vaccines, similar to those used for seasonal flu, could potentially overcome this drawback, aid in weakening the chain of transmission, and lessen Covid’s ongoing effects. Four nasal vaccines are now in phase 3 trials, and at least 12 other nasal vaccines are in clinical development. Many see an effective nasal vaccine as the next big thing.

Vaccine pills

In a tiny experiment conducted last month, a pill created by Vaxart showed encouraging results. Similar to how the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine delivers its instructions to gut cells, the aspirin-sized pill delivers the Covid spike protein instructions using an adenovirus. Antibodies are stimulated to release in the mouth and nose as a result. In the trial, nasal and saliva samples from nearly half of the volunteers revealed higher levels of antibodies than those whose antibodies were the consequence of a prior Covid infection. The trial’s findings revealed that the elevated antibody levels persisted for six months. There are already 900 participants in a phase 2 trial, and results are anticipated next year.

Pan-coronavirus vaccines

The White House called for the creation of vaccines last month to guard against potential future Covid-19 variations as well as unidentified coronaviruses. On the more moderate end of the range, but still a significant improvement over current immunizations, researchers are developing vaccines that provide broad immunity against both the current and future Covid-19 strains. These would be made to avoid the never-ending race to keep up with the latest versions.

The only possibility for a pan-coronavirus vaccination of this kind is being tested in clinical trials at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in the US. Other groups are looking into the far more challenging objective of creating a vaccine that would protect against every coronavirus, including those that cause Mers, Sars, and seasonal colds. A new Covid vaccine that might be widely used in the upcoming year is unlikely to be produced in this endeavor, hence it may be appropriate to approach it as pandemic preparedness research.


by: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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