Source: Quinn, K. (2021). Commentary: Say goodbye to needles in next-generation COVID-19 vaccines. Retrieved from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/commentary/vaccine-covid-19-pfizer-moderna-needles-nasal-2303051
Since the very beginning of the current COVID-19 pandemic, a challenge of pharmaceutical and biotechnological companies has been to develop and deliver safe and effective vaccines against the disease, that as of 24 November 2021, has caused the death of at least 5.17 million people around the world. Nevertheless, up to 7.8 billion vaccines have been applied worldwide since late 2020 without which would have led to many more fatalities.
The vaccines against COVID-19 that currently exist in the world are applied traditionally, using needles and syringes, but what if innovative vaccines are developed and the use of needles, something that many people fear, is no longer necessary?
Several biotechnological companies are already working on that possible solution, and one of the most advanced proposals is the development of a nanopatch with tiny spikes that will deliver the COVID-19 vaccine. The patch is applied directly to the skin, and the vaccine is directly delivered to a barrier of immune cells located under the top layers of the skin. This patch is being developed by the Australian company Vaxxas, and a strong immune response has been observed in pre-clinical work, while clinical trials in humans may start soon.
Another alternative to deliver COVID-19 vaccines without the need for a jab is an intranasal vaccine. Since SARS-CoV-2 infection starts in the nose, mouth, throat, and lungs, the application of an intranasal vaccine is expected to be very effective since its delivery would be easier and immunity will be built in the exact place where the infection begins. Some already approved vaccines such as the one developed by AstraZeneca, are already being tested to be delivered directly to the mucosa.
Additionally, if yearly boosters are required it would be easier to deliver them to the population with the aforementioned alternatives, and even the combination of the COVID-19 vaccine with the flu vaccine could be possible, hence developing a multipathogen vaccine.
As well, since it has been observed that immunity of the complete regimen of the vaccines decreases with time and that the efficiency of the immunisation is lower in, for example, immunocompromised people, totally new vaccines could be necessary, for example, protein subunits vaccines, which use the purified protein from virus’ surfaces as a target. Additionally, due to the fact that all currently approved vaccines were designed and tested only for the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, there is the urge to develop different vaccines specific to new variants that may surge of this infamous pathogen. One approach is the development of “pan-coronavirus” vaccines, which aim to target all existing coronaviruses, and animal data of early trials are already promising.
Finally, another important innovation is the fact that an immune correlate could be developed in order to measure the level of protection that an individual has against SARS-CoV-2 like it already happens with other viruses such as rubella or hepatitis B virus, and this will tell if the person requires a booster vaccine or not.
Undoubtedly, we are moving towards a new normal, in which COVID-19 will become an endemic disease. Thus, we need to learn how to live with the virus, and these innovations, that can only be safely and efficiently developed with well-performed clinical trials, will help to provide the population alternatives to become immune to this pathogen.