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What if you could drink your COVID-19 vaccine instead of rolling up your sleeve? No needle – just a hiss and gulp and your new immunity is down the hatch.
You may be able to do so in the next few years as researchers expand their focus to mucosal vaccines, which include nasal vaccines, as well as oral “wipe and swallow” vaccines like QYNDR, which has completed and is awaiting its Phase 1 clinical trial for more funding to conduct more detailed, advanced studies that could actually bring the vaccine to market.
The QYNDR vaccine is pronounced “friendlier” because it’s a gentler way of administering a vaccine, says Kyle Flanigan, founder of the maker of QYNDR, US Specialty Formulations. Promising clinical trial results from New Zealand offer hope that QYNDR will be a viable option for protection against the range of circulating COVID-19 variants. The results have not yet been peer-reviewed.
“It’s really difficult to survive a vaccine that makes it through your digestive system,” Flanigan said. “We were able to figure out how a vaccine gets through the stomach into the gut and is effective and triggers the appropriate response.”
But to get it to the additional clinical trials needed to verify and commercialize it, they need funding from investors. This week, Flanigan was in San Francisco at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference trying to get that funding.
Typically, when we talk about COVID-19 vaccines, we’re talking about the same big names: Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca. But around the world, researchers are coming up with new names and new forms of vaccines, like the nasal vaccines recently introduced in China and India. As reported by Nature, researchers are still awaiting data to confirm whether mucosal vaccines are “delivering on” their promise of stopping infection. But if they prevail on the infection front, they could be the new generation of COVID-19 vaccine.
COVID-19 is still here and deadly — although it’s causing far less damage (about 400 deaths per day) compared to the peak in January 2021, when thousands were dying per day, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccines and booster doses remain available and protect against serious illnesses for those willing to take them. Some treatments, including the antiviral Paxlovid, are still available to prevent people at high risk of getting really sick from getting really sick. This means that for most people, a positive COVID-19 test result today doesn’t mean the same as it did in August 2020 or winter 2021.
Scientists hope that mucosal vaccines will not only protect against serious diseases and deaths, such asmRNA vaccines and boosters have proven their worth time and time again, but they also ward off infections. However, you need a set of evidence that requires attention and money.
One vaccine you swallow and one you inhale
Mucosal vaccines differ from traditional vaccine types because they penetrate through our mucous membranes, either into the mucous membrane lining our nose (as with the much-discussed COVID-19 nasal vaccine) or into our intestines (as with an orally suspended vaccine, such as QYNDRs ). Because of the different types of immunity they generate and the fact that it starts right where the virus enters our bodies, mucosal vaccines have been supported as viable or even beneficial options to fight COVID-19 infection.
While the vaccines we have on the market in the US — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — have been extremely effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalizations, and death from COVID-19, they are not as good at protecting against infection or the ability of the vaccine to keep you from testing positive, particularly with current strains. (One of the public criticisms the CDC faced early in the pandemic was when it appeared to point out that vaccinated individuals could not contract COVID-19, rather than focusing on the fact that vaccines can prevent serious illnesses and prevent deaths.) To avoid serious illness, the whole point of vaccination is, a new method could renew some of the protection against infection that we saw in the earlier days of the pandemic when the ancestral strains of the virus were still around.
dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Medicine, said people will be looking for a new type of immune response and better protection against infection — like those induced by mucosal vaccines — for future vaccines.
“That generates a different type of immune response, including different antibodies,” Adalja said in reference to the way mucosal vaccines confer immunity, adding that there is “reason” to pursue them.
When will we get these new vaccines
The FDA has released vaccines under an Emergency Use Authorization, which is an accelerated but still stringent regulatory process that requires safety and efficacy data before vaccines are rolled out to the masses. The public health emergency declaration is still active in the US, and it’s unclear how or if the FDA will return to the longer stringent “approval” process it needs for drugs. Its advisory board meets in late January to discuss future COVID-19 vaccinations. Among other things, the panel is expected to discuss the timing of future booster doses and who should receive those booster doses.
Regarding mucosal vaccines, there are nasal vaccines on the market in China and India, although they have not been used as long as traditional forms and have less efficacy data. But those vaccines that are manufactured abroad and imported into the US may have the fastest or best chance of clearance.
“The clearest way would be to see data on those that are already in the market outside of the United States,” Adalja said.
What is still unknown
It is virtually impossible to predict the next version of omicron – whether it will be better or as good as being neutralized by our treatments. The vaccines that make it through the FDA approval process will need science and good data to support their use, which will require research and money. For a vaccine to fill the huge footsteps mRNA vaccines have left in the healthcare system, Adalja says its creators may need to prove it offers better protection against infection.
“The advantages of the mRNA vaccines have been their speed, and it will take time for these other technologies to be surpassed,” he said.
Part of what gave the dominant vaccine companies their quick advantage was the fact that they were part of the federally funded Operation Warp Speed program, which was created to get COVID-19 vaccines to market as quickly as possible and to protect the people. However, cost will be an issue once the pandemic ‘state of emergency’ is over. Moderna’s CEO told the Wall Street Journal earlier this week that it was considering pricing its COVID-19 vaccine between $110 and $130 per dose.
Moderna did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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 healthcare provider with any questions about a medical condition or health goals.