If there is anything that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s that the world can be completely disrupted or put to a pause at any time, and without warning. In November 2020, we all hailed a breakthrough as a ‘great day for science and humanity’ as the first Coronavirus vaccine was announced. The vaccine used a new approach of injecting part of the virus’s genetic code into a person to train their immune system. Ever since millions of people have been vaccinated. At present, there are more than 250 COVID-19 vaccines in development around the world.
Aside from the conspiracy theories and doubts about the development of vaccines, one major issue that has come about is needle phobia. This is a fear of medical procedures that involve needles or injections. It might seem insignificant, but with 35% of adults and up to 50% of children having a fear of needles, nasal spray vaccines are an appealing alternative for large parts of the population. The advantages and attraction of nasal spray vaccines for viral respiratory infections are gaining prominence as they are less painful and easier to administrate.
But this isn’t the first time that we have heard of nasal vaccines. Nasal vaccines have been developed to prevent illnesses such as Influenza, Chronic Hepatitis B, and Typhoid. There are also prospects for nasal vaccines for Foot and Mouth disease and Tetanus.
Nasal vaccines are not a new thing. Their history began in the 17th Century when Kangxi Emperor claimed that to protect his entire family and army from smallpox he had them all inoculated, a procedure described in manuals of the time as involving the technique of “blowing smallpox material up the nose.” The material used varied from ground-up dry scabs to fluid collected from a pustule. In China, a description of the Chinese method of insufflation of smallpox material up the nose had reached England in 1700.
Scientists have continued to see through the development of nasal vaccines. Dr. Jan Groen, who has spent much of his professional life in healthcare with a strong background in vaccine development, indicates that in COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) alternatives to injection for vaccine delivery could prove crucial in some populations and cultures.
You may wonder what advantages nasal spray vaccines have over injections. Well, for starters, it is used in the nose, where the virus replicates. This will ultimately lower the risk of mutations. It is quickly induced, giving local mucosal immunity, with fast protection after the first vaccination. On top of this, there is little to no harm in mixing it with all other vaccines on the market.
Those delivering the vaccine may need less training than those administering it via injection. It is easy to make this type of vaccine available for developing nations because needles are more complicated and present the risks of infection.
Currently, only eight out of the two hundred and fifty vaccines that are in development are nasal sprays. The good news? The Dutch developer Intravacc has recently moved beyond pre-clinical trials and toward a phase I trial.
The Avacc will be tested in a first-in-human clinical study in January 2022. It not only induces high mucosal and systemic immune responses but is cheap to manufacture in high quantities and can be stored at 4°C for up to five years. Dr. Groen, who has been CEO of Intravacc since May 2020, says that from preclinical trials the early indications are that the vaccine offers 100% protection against COVID-19 with no damage to the nose or lungs. The aim is for the nasal spray vaccine to be available by the end of 2022 with two doses administered three weeks apart.
The clock is ticking and the fight to return to ‘normal’ continues. The development of nasal spray vaccines is proving to have numerous advantages over injections. We can only hope that this new development will attract millions of people who have been held back from getting the vaccine due to needle phobia.