PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A new way to be protected from COVID-19 without the poke of a needle is being researched right here in Virginia.
If you’ve ever gotten a flu shot at the doctor’s office, sometimes they’ll ask you if you want the shot or the spray. Intranasal vaccines have been used by healthcare professionals for more than a decade.
Now, researchers at UVA Health with the University of Virginia are developing their own version of a spray — but this time for COVID-19.
It’s a study that’s been years in the making. UVA Health Associate Professor Mayuresh Abhyankar has spent the last six years working on a vaccine additive to improve and lengthen immune response. Abhyankar, who specializes in infectious diseases, told 10 On Your Side his initial research began with amebiasis, a parasitic infection that spreads in bodies of water.
When the pandemic began, Abhyankar said he and his fellow researchers swapped the amebiasis antigen with the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 antigen.
The team then began testing the formula on mice, giving them the intranasal spray containing the same spike protein as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and then infecting them with COVID-19. All the “vaccinated” mice survived and showed 100% efficacy against the virus. Those who weren’t vaccinated died from COVID-19.
“It would be ideal if it could create an immunological barrier right at the point where the virus enters the body which is the respirator system,” Abhyankar explained.
Abhyankar’s goal is to continue testing the spray on monkeys and then apply for a clinical trial on humans. It’s a reality that he says is years away but could mean the spray in theory could be more effective than current vaccines on the market.
“Since the virus would be restricted right at its portal of entry, it greatly reduces the chances of the shedding of this virus,” Abhyankar stated.
Time and funding are the biggest obstacles for the team.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” the infectious disease expert said.
This intranasal vaccine would be different than others on the market because unlike the flu spray there’s no active virus. Anyone would be able to receive it, including the immunocompromised.