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Could this needle-free vaccine better protect us against new COVID variants?

A new COVID-19 vaccine that can be administered without needles is being trialled at a university in the United Kingdom.
A new COVID-19 vaccine that can be administered without needles is being trialled at a university in the United Kingdom.   -   Copyright  Lloyd Mann, University of Cambridge
By Pascale Davies

A new COVID-19 vaccine that can be administered without needles is being trialled at a university in the United Kingdom.

The jab uses a jet of air that pushes the vaccine into the skin, which could prove an alternative to those who have a fear of needles and used as a COVID-19 booster shot, the University of Southhampton said in a statement on Tuesday.

The new coronavirus vaccine uses the University of Cambridge’s DIOSvax technology and could be scaled up and manufactured as a powder to boost global vaccination efforts if the trial proves successful.

"This isn’t simply ‘yet another’ coronavirus vaccine as it has both COVID-19 variants and future coronaviruses in its sight," said Saul Faust, the clinical chief investigator and director of the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility.

"This technology could give wide-ranging protection to huge numbers of people worldwide".

How does the new vaccine work?

Vaccines work arming our immune system to block or destroy cells that carry the spike protein, protecting us from COVID-19.

But the researchers said as the virus is constantly mutating and the virus spoke protein is changing, there is an added risk of ‘vaccine escape’, where changes to the spike protein mean the immune system can no longer recognise the virus.

The Cambridge team said that to get around this, they have searched for new types of antigens, key regions of the virus – that are the same across coronaviruses that occur in nature, including animals that carry them.

Unlike most COVID-19 vaccines that use the sequence of RNA for the virus Spike protein found in the first isolated samples of the COVID-19 virus in January 2020, this new technology aims to predict how the virus could mutate, which could, in theory, offer better protection.

"Our vaccine is innovative, both in terms of the way it primes the immune system to respond with a broader protective response to coronaviruses, and how it is delivered," said Professor Jonathan Heeney from the University of Cambridge and the company DIOSynVax.

"Crucially, it is the first step towards a universal coronavirus vaccine we are developing, protecting us not just from COVID-19 variants but from future coronaviruses".

The University is now seeking volunteers who have had two vaccine doses but not a third to participate in its phase 1 vaccine trial.