What future COVID vaccines will likely look like

The pandemic and all its lockdown restrictions may be behind us, but COVID isn’t. Vaccination remains key to keeping the virus at bay, and the development of more effective and easier-to-use vaccines continues.

Managing the spread of COVID remains an essential mission for health authorities globally.

The Eris variant is the latest COVID mutation spreading around the planet, with Australian authorities keeping a keen eye on the situation in the US and UK, where Eris is now the dominant variant.

Researchers are working around the clock to develop new medications to combat successive generations of the virus. SBS News reports that there are currently 199 new COVID vaccines in pre-clinical development worldwide – 183 in human clinical trials, 50 in phase III trials (on larger populations and in different regions and countries) and 11 in phase IV surveillance, which is when the large-scale effects of a drug are monitored in a population after it becomes available publicly.

Sixty-one trials are being conducted in Australia.

Professor Nicholas Wood, from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS), told SBS that COVID vaccine development was very high on the medical research agenda.

“There’s still a lot of energy being put into vaccine development,” he said.

“The general idea is, if the virus varies itself, does the vaccine that we have been using against a previous variant still work?” Prof. Wood said.

He compared the situation to influenza vaccines, which are continuously updated to cope with or match the virus that is circulating each year.

But it’s not just the chemical make-up of the vaccine being refined. Vaccine delivery methods are also being reworked.

Populations across the planet are encouraged to receive COVID injections – and many people have discovered (or were already well aware) that they don’t particularly like needles.

Researchers have been working on more user-friendly ways to administer the vaccine, methods that don’t involve a sharp implement.

Patches and nasal sprays are emerging as the most likely candidates for needle-free (and pain-free) vaccine delivery.

Nasal sprays for vaccination

COVID vaccines administered by nasal spray have shown equivalent efficacy to those delivered by injection.

Along with possibly lower production costs, the clear benefits of the nasal spray vaccinations include increased usability, user comfort levels and a potential increase in vaccination rates.

Professor Adrian Esterman, chair of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of South Australia, says the nasal-spray delivery method has the potential to be a “game-changer”.

“They [nasal sprays] actually put the vaccine right where the virus goes into the body, which is in the mucosa in the nasal system and in the throat,” he says.

“Because of this, they have the potential to stop it in its tracks, and stop it from replicating in the first place.”

Skin patch delivery systems

Researchers at the University of Sydney are working to test a needle-free vaccine ‘patch’ for at-risk groups. The patch or device is coated with a vaccine formulation with the goal of delivering it to cell layers immediately under the skin, which are rich in immune cells.

It is then pressed onto the skin for efficient vaccine delivery. It eradicates the need for needles, potentially enhancing vaccination rate prospects.

Would you prefer a needle-free vaccine method? When was the last time you had a booster? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Why do some people with COVID sail through with no symptoms?

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