Research opens door for COVID nasal spray vaccine

Australian researchers have developed a new method of delivery for COVID vaccines, and it could provide a revolutionary way of tackling the virus – through the nose.

A vaccine delivered by a simple nasal spray has been developed by researchers from the Centenary Institute and the University of Sydney, opening the way for a strategy that induces potent lung immunity and protection against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

The vaccine is made up of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and an adjuvant called Pam2Cys (a molecule that helps stimulate a stronger immune response in the body).

Read: What can we expect from this latest COVID wave?

Trial results show that it prompts substantial levels of neutralising antibodies and increased T-cell responses in the lungs and airways. T-cells help destroy SARS-CoV-2 infected cells.

By delivering through the nose, the vaccine is able to tackle the virus at an earlier stage, says the study’s lead author, Dr Anneliese Ashhurst.

“Our vaccine differs from most current COVID-19 vaccines in that it enables generation of an immune response directly in those areas of the body that are likely to be the first point of contact for the virus – the nose, airway and lungs. This may help explain the vaccine’s effectiveness,” said Dr Ashhurst.

Read: How picking your nose could open the door to Alzheimer’s

It’s important to note that these trials were conducted on mice, but the results suggest a nasal vaccine strategy in humans could be very effective in blocking the transmission of COVID.

“Our vaccination findings have shown exciting potential in pre-clinical studies, improving protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection,” said Warwick Britton, professor of immunology at the university and a senior co-author of the study. “The approach developed here could help break the COVID-19 infection cycle and will likely influence future coronavirus vaccine-related studies.”

The study, published last week in Nature, highlights the fact that the tested vaccine is protein-based, making it different to most other nasally delivered vaccines that are currently being clinically tested.

It’s a point of difference that could provide a distinct advantage, says Prof. Britton.

Read: COVID linked to onset of brain diseases

He said the technique could be extended beyond COVID, and that adapted versions of the nasal vaccine potentially could be applied to other viral or bacterial respiratory diseases such as influenza, avian flu, SARS and MERS.

An article published in Nature in September – when an inhaled version of a COVID vaccine was approved for use as a booster dose in China – flagged nasal vaccines as the potential future of COVID prevention, and that notion has since gathered momentum.

Conventional vaccines delivered through the muscle do a good job of producing T-cells and antibodies that circulate through the bloodstream, but they aren’t present at high enough levels in the nose and lungs to provide rapid protection. A nasal spray provokes higher levels in the lungs, providing a greater likelihood of preventing transmission.

COVID has found its way to many of us through the nose and, with a little bit of luck, it may also meet its demise the same way.

Have you been unfortunate enough to contract COVID? How seriously did it affect you? Why not share your experience and thoughts in the comments section below?

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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