Oxford University to trial giving AstraZeneca Covid vaccine as a nasal spray with the hope it will trigger a better and faster immune response in the lungs.
Oxford university is looking for 30 adults to receive vaccine through nasal spray. Trials could begin next week and are expected to last four months. Trial follows announcements that the university and other researchers are assessing delivering vaccines in non-jab forms.
AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine will be administered as a nasal spray as part of a new trial. Oxford University scientists — who developed the jab — have been looking at injection-free ways to dish out the vaccine. It’s thought that nasal sprays may better target immune cells in the lungs, throat and nose, making them even more effective at defending against Covid.
Oxford is looking for 30 adults to get the vaccine squirted up their noses as soon as next week. Volunteers will be tracked for four months to see make sure it’s safe as part of the initial trial. If successful, the phase one study will move on and tens or potentially hundreds more adults will be recruited to see if it can ward off the virus as well as a jab.
Nasal spray vaccines would be great news for people who have a fear of needles and could alleviate supply issues that have hindered rollouts around the world. This method is already used to give out children’s flu jabs. The university’s study, involving adults over 40, is part of its partnership with AstraZeneca, the Financial Times reported.
Professor Sarah Gilbert, one of the lead scientists behind the Oxford university jab, announced last month that her team was working on injection-free ways of delivering the vaccine. Vaccine hesitancy could lead to 20,000 extra coronavirus deaths over the next two years, a study has suggested.
Researchers warned that if a significant number of people turn the jab down, it may allow the virus to spread in high numbers when lockdowns are eased, posing a constant threat to the elderly and ill.
The gloomy modelling by Imperial College London predicted 305 extra Covid deaths per million people by 2023, the equivalent of 20,130 people in the UK. Other more pessimistic calculations projected even more deaths.
Experts warned vaccine hesitancy will lead to flare-ups in cases and hospitalisations which could see lockdown restrictions in place for longer. The study did not specify what constituted as high vaccine hesitancy. But Imperial has been repeatedly criticised for its pessimistic Covid models, which predicted 250,000 deaths in the first wave without further action.
So far, uptake in Britain has been far higher than expected, with more than 90 per cent of Britons over the age of 60 having accepted their jab. But officials expect that, as the programme moves to younger, less-vulnerable groups, the turnout rate will drop because young people don’t see the virus as a threat.
Government-funded surveys have indicated up to a fifth of people under-30 will turn the vaccines down.
Professor Sarah Gilbert told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee last month that researchers were exploring nasal spray and tablet forms of the vaccine. She said: ‘As you know all the vaccines have been given at the moment as intramuscular injections. ‘That is not necessarily the best way to provide protection against a respiratory virus infection, where we want the immune system to be active in the upper respiratory tract and then in the lower respiratory tract, which is where the virus is causing the infection. ‘We have flu vaccines that are given by nasal spray and this could be a very good approach in the future to use vaccines against coronaviruses.’
Other scientists in the UK began testing a different nasal spray vaccine, known as COVI-VAC, on volunteers at the start of the year.
The spray, made by New York-based company Codagenix, contains a genetically modified form of Covid and is being tested on 48 adults in London.
The UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) green-lit the trial after positive safety data in animal studies.
COVI-VAC is a type of live attenuated vaccine, meaning trialists will get a genetically-modified version of Covid that is weaker than the real thing but still infectious. Live attenuated vaccines — such as the MMR jab — work by stimulating the immune system in the same way that real disease would, but by relying on viruses unable to cause severe illness.
Oxford University’s vaccine is an adenovirus vaccine – which uses a weakened virus that causes the common cold that has been modified not to trigger illness and is not infectious.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology is also trialing a nasal spray to deliver the country’s Sputnik V vaccine. The institute expects to complete clinical trials of the spray by the end of the year.
Scientists at the University of Birmingham are also working on a nasal Covid treatment.
But rather than acting as a vaccine, its version aims to prevent Covid infections by capturing the virus in the nose. Researchers hope the spray may be readily available in pharmacies in the coming months.