Why Bharat Biotech’s nasal vaccine can be a practical option

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The country’s first intranasal vaccine for COVID-19, delivered through the nose instead of a shot in the arm, will now be available as a booster dose for those above 18 years of age. Those who have taken Covishield and Covaxin can now take the nasal vaccine, developed by Bharat Biotech, as a heterologous booster dose.

The needle-free vaccine will be available at private centres and has been introduced on the Co-WIN platform. The nasal vaccine — BBV154, or iNCOVACC — received approval of the Drugs Controller General of India in November.

With the vaccine being delivered through a nasal spray, it will do away with the need for needles and syringes currently required for all the COVID-19 vaccines available. It will also reduce dependence on personnel trained to give shots.

As the vaccine is given nasally, it triggers an immune response in the mucosal membrane. The company said, “Being an intranasal vaccine, BBV154 may produce local antibodies in the upper respiratory tract which may provide the potential to reduce infection and transmission.” Says Dr Anurag Agarwal, Dean of Biosciences and Health Research at the Trivedi School of Biosciences of Ashoka University, “We do not have any data to say that for sure. However, since the nasal vaccine gives you local immunity (in the nose where the virus first enters) we can say that it is more likely to be effective at preventing transmission than the current generation of vaccines we have. But there is still room for improvement. This is one step in the multitude of the next generation of vaccines.”

“Something like the nasal vaccine works. That’s because it provides local immunity as well as convenience of administering with no need for syringes and trained manpower. Second, it will be practical and affordable. This would mean not only lower costs but also easy distribution, no need for cold chains with very low temperatures and so on. Third, it could be developed as a multivalent so as to cover a wider spectrum of the Sars-CoV-2 virus,” he adds.

The vaccine has been developed by Bharat Biotech with technology in-licensed from Washington University-St Louis. The company found the vaccine to be “safe, well-tolerated, and immunogenic” when compared to its own Covaxin in a phase III trial of nearly 3,100 participants across 14 sites in India. The company has also conducted a trial with 875 participants to see whether the vaccine may be used as a booster in those who have received Covaxin or Covishield as their primary vaccine.