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With the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prepping yet another booster shot for this fall — this one to target the Omicron variant known as BA.5 — scientists and immunologists are working on a whole new approach that includes nasal spray vaccines and body patches.
A group of scientists, doctors, and federal health officials met at the White House on Tuesday to examine new ways to battle COVID, including vaccines targeting all variants, as well as nasal sprays.
“Innovative approaches are clearly needed to induce broad and durable protection against coronaviruses known and unknown,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser and the top U.S. immunologist, told the gathering.
There’s broad consensus that despite the benefit of the currently available vaccines, the “job is not done,” Fauci said.
One innovative approach is a spray that people would shoot into their sinuses. Another is a small patch, similar to a nicotine patch used by smokers trying to quit, that would inject the vaccine via microneedles.
NBC News reported this week that nasal vaccines “have the potential to prevent infections entirely” because they raise immunity exactly where the virus enters the body.
The nasal vaccines “concentrate the immune protection in the upper airway,” Fauci told NBC News. That means the “antibodies that are trying to protect you from having the virus enter your body, are right there on the front lines protecting you.”
“A traditional shot in the arm, you get what’s called systemic immunity, namely antibodies build up that are essentially distributed in different organs of the body,” Fauci said. That, he noted, is why people who contract the virus now after being vaccinated — including Fauci himself — have far less severe symptoms.
The nasal vaccine would work as a booster after original shots of the full vaccine.
But the nasal vaccine won’t be available for at least two years, according to Fauci. Scientists are now testing a modified version of a virus that usually infects birds to attack the virus, and it has already been found to generate immune responses in mice.
Top U.S. health officials are now recommending another booster shot for most Americans, and a panel that advises the FDA is working on a new one that could be released this fall that would target the Omicron variant and its subvariants, including BA.5.
Joseph Curl has covered politics for 35 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent for a national newspaper. He was also the a.m. editor of the Drudge Report for four years. Send tips to [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @josephcurl.