AstraZeneca vaccine to be tested as a nasal spray

University of Oxford starts looking for people to take part in an early-stage trial

FILE - In this Feb. 15, 2021 file photo, a woman eyes a syringe as she prepares to be inoculated with a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 in the Magdalena Contreras area of Mexico City, during a vaccination campaign for the elderly. As Mexico approaches 200,000 in officially test-confirmed deaths from COVID-19, the real death toll is probably higher due to the country’s extremely low rate of testing. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

Needles may not be necessary when administering Covid-19 vaccines if trials of a nasal spray are successful.

Scientists will study the efficacy of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine when delivered via the nose.

The trials could begin as early as next week and the initial study will last about four months.

The University of Oxford will examine the level of immune system responses generated by the vaccine using this delivery technique, monitor safety and identify any adverse reactions.

Thirty healthy Oxford-based volunteers aged 18-40 will receive the vaccine through an intranasal spray device, similar to many over-the-counter hay fever remedies.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca drug is currently delivered by intramuscular injection as part of Britain's vaccination campaign.

The pharmaceutical company is embroiled in a bitter dispute with the European Union over delivery levels and was told it must catch up before exporting to other countries.

There was also some controversy over efficacy rates and side effects.

This week, Israel and New Zealand gave interim approval for the sale of nitric oxide nasal spray from biotech company SaNOtize Research and Development, which could help prevent transmission of the Covid-19 virus.

Dr Sandy Douglas, who is leading the study, said: “Some immunologists believe that delivering the vaccine to the site of infection may achieve enhanced protection, especially against transmission and mild disease.

“We hope this small, safety-focused study will lay the foundation for future larger studies that are needed to test whether giving the vaccine this way does protect against coronavirus infection.

“There are a variety of people who will find an intranasal delivery system more appealing, which may mean vaccine uptake is higher in those groups.

“It might also have practical advantages – nasal sprays have been used successfully for other vaccines, for example, the flu vaccine used in UK schools.”

Dr Meera Madhavan, lead clinical research fellow at the Jenner Institute, said: “This study will help us to understand the safety of, and side effects associated with, giving the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine by nasal spray.

“It is an important first step towards increasing our range of options for curtailing the spread of Covid-19 globally.”

Prof Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute, said the results could show how effective the vaccine is in preventing disease episodes and asymptomatic infections, possibly helping to reduce transmission.