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The era of needle-free COVID vaccines may be beginning as India approves its first nasal spray

September 7, 2022, 8:35 AM UTC
A student receives a FluMist influenza vaccine at Lincoln Elementary in Anaheim, Calif., October 2015.
Jeff Gritchen—Digital First Media/Orange County Register

India’s drug regulator authorized the country’s first nasal spray vaccine on Tuesday, marking a big step toward increasing the availability of newly popular needle-free vaccines around the world.

The nasal vaccine was developed by Indian vaccine firm Bharat Biotech, maker of the injectable COVAXIN COVID-19 vaccine, which is widely used in India and received approval for global distribution by the World Health Organization late last year.

Bharat Biotech partnered with Washington University in St. Louis to make the nasal spray vaccine, the company said. The vaccine, which is called iNCOVACC, uses adenovirus vector vaccine technology to induce an immune response, similar technology to that used in COVID-19 vaccines from the U.S.’s Johnson & Johnson and China’s CanSino. Bharat Biotech said the vaccine proved effective in clinical trials and plans to release data soon to back up its claims.

In announcing the approval, Bharat Biotech chairman Krishna Ella called his firm’s new vaccine a “global game changer” for the development of intranasal vaccine technology. The nasal spray vaccine “has the double benefit of enabling faster development of nasal spray vaccines and easy nasal delivery that enables mass immunization to protect from emerging variants of concern,” the company said in a press release.

The approval of Bharat Biotech’s nasal spray in India marks the largest breakthrough so far for intranasal vaccine technology in the pandemic, though several other firms have announced that they are already distributing their own COVID nasal spray vaccines.

Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology claimed in April that its Sputnik V COVID-19 nasal vaccine—a spray version of its injectable vaccine—was the world’s first nasal vaccine to get regulatory approval in the fight against COVID-19. Iran also claims to have distributed over 5 million doses of a locally developed nasal spray vaccine.

Non-injectable vaccine technology has recently taken center stage in the COVID-19 fight.

Bharat Biotech’s nasal spray approval comes just days after China’s CanSino received approval to distribute its own inhaled vaccine in China. Bharat Biotech’s vaccine is slightly different from CanSino’s as it is sniffed through the nose while CanSino’s is inhaled through the mouth.

Scientists have been optimistic that nasal sprays and inhaled vaccines could be the future of COVID-19 vaccine technology given the possibility that they could be more effective than injectable vaccines at stopping coronaviruses that enter the body through the nose and mouth.

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