Would a nasal spray work to prevent COVID-19? One of the most popular questions about the pandemic is whether or not the COVID-19 vaccine works effectively.
Even now, many people are still not getting the COVID-19 vaccine, and there may be more reasons than just political stances. UC Berkeley and Stanford researchers have been looking into nasal sprays to fight against COVID-19, which begs the question: Could nasal spray work as a substitute for the COVID-19 vaccine?
COVID-19 vaccines have been an effective solution in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic that started in 2019. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, and most of them cause the same kind of symptoms as a cold. However, the coronavirus outbreak in late 2019 was caused by SARS-CoV-2, which caused respiratory illnesses and led to death in some cases.
Since then, governments worldwide have put in place measures to prevent the spread of the virus. International travel was temporarily banned in February 2020 to prevent new variants from spreading globally. People quarantined to minimize public exposure to the virus. According to Kaiser Permanente, COVID-19 led to a drop of 3.9% in median global GDP between 2019 to 2020.
As of now, we are two and a half years into the pandemic. Biotech companies, industries, lab researchers and scientists have developed several vaccines for us to fight against COVID-19, such as Pfizer and Moderna.
Although millions of people have gotten vaccines to protect themselves from the virus, part of the population still chooses not to. One reason, people say, is they feel the vaccines were developed too quickly. Thus, some people do not trust the vaccine enough to opt to receive one. Second, people can still get COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine, leading people to believe it is ineffective. Lastly, research has shown that vaccines have side effects, such as sore arms, fatigue, chills and fevers, which can deter people’s decisions.
Research has also shown that some vaccinated individuals have developed a clotting disorder because the antibodies can bind and activate platelets. Platelets are the cells that circulate in our blood and bind together to recognize the damaged blood vessels. The antibodies prime the platelets to clump and trigger clotting. This side effect has been reported to affect only a small number of individuals.
Though the overall benefits of the vaccine outweigh the known and potential risks, top institutions have been working to develop new treatments to fight against COVID-19 to address some of the aforementioned concerns. In general, nasal sprays deliver an antigen in the airway and trigger a potent mucosal response to provide protection, thus slowing the spread of a virus while developing immunity. UC Berkeley researchers have been working on a nasal spray that uses antisense oligonucleotide, or ASO, treatment to target different variants.
ASOs are short, synthetic, DNA-like molecules programmed to stick to specific RNA sequences in cells and viruses to disrupt gene expression. The hope is to design ASOs that can target the entire viral family and block viral replication. This gives us a greater advantage compared to the COVID-19 vaccine because although the vaccine is highly effective, it does not target all variants.
At Stanford, experts are working on a different nasal spray that places COVID-19 antibodies in the nose, protecting the individual from the virus. They have tested the nasal spray on animal models, and the current results show a strong protection from the virus.
If we can popularize nasal spray, it could be a big game changer for several reasons. Individuals who shy away from needles may be attracted to the nasal spray to gain protection from COVID-19. Nasal sprays are also cheaper to make and distribute because they can be stored in a home refrigerator, whereas storage of the vaccine requires ultra-cold temperatures. Most importantly, while vaccines currently protect us from the complications of contracting COVID-19, the nasal spray would prevent us from catching the virus.
When the time comes, governments must invest in the nasal sprays the same way they did for the vaccines in order to increase production. Although the nasal spray is still in development, there is high hope within the biotech community of its great potential to protect individuals effectively. The nasal spray could also be one of the most convenient ways for people to protect themselves if sold over the counter at pharmacies.
Although we need to continue encouraging people to get vaccinated, we may also need to educate the public through seminars, social media and campaigns about the novel nasal spray, should its development continue. Not many people know much about the potential of nasal spray, and thus the public push toward developing it isn’t high.
I urge people to learn about the nasal spray to potentially slow the spread of COVID-19 in our environment and stop this global health emergency. This is the first step to introducing nasal sprays to the world and changing the conversation about how we can protect ourselves from COVID-19.