Centre rolls out first nasal Covid vaccine as booster
India on Thursday rolled out the first nasal vaccine against Covid-19, to be administered as a primary or booster dose for adults, potentially widening the pool of people who may take a third vaccine against the infection, cutting tertiary costs, and easing pressures on supply and storage networks
India on Thursday rolled out the first nasal vaccine against Covid-19, to be administered as a primary or booster dose for adults, potentially widening the pool of people who may take a third vaccine against the infection, cutting tertiary costs, and easing pressures on supply and storage networks.
The vaccine, manufactured by Bharat Biotech and branded iNCOVACC, was launched by Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya and science minister Jitendra Singh, and will initially be available only at private facilities, where it will cost ₹800 for a spray.
In a statement, Bharat Biotech said the vaccine was designed to be economical and is targeted at low- and middle-income countries.
“As a needle-less vaccination, Bharat Biotech’s iNCOVACC will be world’s first such booster dose. India will now have more options when it comes to third doses or precautionary doses,” said the Hyderabad-based firm, which also manufactures Covaxin, one of the two key intravenous jabs that form the bulk of India’s national Covid-19 inoculation programme.
“A roll-out of iNCOVACC is expected to begin in private hospitals that have placed advance orders. Initial manufacturing capacity of several million doses per annum has been established, this can be scaled up to a billion doses as required,” the firm added.
The vaccine has been approved for use as a primary series vaccine and heterologous booster in India.
“Being the world’s first intranasal Covid-19 vaccine, this marks a glorious tribute to the call for Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India),” Mandaviya said during the launch.
On December 24 last year, India’s technical expert panel on immunisation — the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) — recommended that the vaccine be used as a precautionary dose for adults.
The vaccine has been developed by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, US, and licensed for manufacturing and distribution by Bharat Biotech and another American company , Precision Biologics.
Experts are hopeful of its utility since it is easy to administer, and is a new inoculation -- factors that could help overcome hesitancy around booster doses. Around 716 million of 940 million adults in India are yet to take the third dose of a Covid-19, according to data analysed by HT.
Scientists and health experts have long viewed nasal vaccines as a vital means to end the pandemic. These sprays aim to protect the site that the Sars-CoV-2 virus first targets — the nasal pathway. The vaccine paints the mucous membrane in the nasal pathway with a layer of antibodies, preventing an infection at the very source.
Conventional vaccines work differently: they trigger antibodies that circulate in the bloodstream; these antibodies are best suited to preventing the disease from taking hold, but are usually unable to avert an infection or transmission.
The company said iNCOVACC was evaluated in phase 1, 2 and 3 clinical trials involving over 3,000 participants with successful results.
Administered as a nasal spray, it does not require syringes, needles, alcohol wipes, bandages, etc, saving costs related to procurement, distribution, storage, and biomedical waste disposal, routine requirements for intravenous injections.
The company also said that clinical trials and extensive humoral and cell-mediated responses were conducted to evaluate the vaccine as a primary dose schedule, and as heterologous booster dose for people who have previously received two doses of the Covaxin and Covishield, the most widespread Covid-19 vaccines administered in India.
“iNCOVACC recipients demonstrated significant levels of Mucosal IgA antibody levels (measured in the saliva). Mucosal IgA antibodies in the upper respiratory tract may provide benefits in reducing infections and transmission,” said the company.
The vaccine can be stored in a regular refrigerator temperature of 2-8°C, making it easy to store and distribute across the country.
“Nasal vaccines might be able to prevent even asymptomatic Covid because it generates local IgA antibodies (first line of defence), cutting chain of transmission and possibly bringing an end to this pandemic,” said senior immunologist Dr Narinder Kumar Mehra.
According to the company, the vector-based platform can be easily updated with emerging variants for mass production within a few months.
“Despite the lack of demand for Covid-19 vaccines, Bharat Biotech continued product development in intranasal vaccines, to be well-prepared with platform technologies for future infectious diseases. Bharat Biotech has also initiated development of variant-specific vaccines for COVID in an attempt to be future ready,” it said.