China has launched a Covid vaccine which is inhaled through the mouth, but how does it work and could it come to the UK? Here’s what you need to know.
What is the new Covid vaccine inhaled through the mouth?
The Chinese city of Shanghai has started administering an inhalable Covid-19 vaccine in what appears to be a world first. The vaccine is a mist that is sucked in through the mouth and is being offered free of charge as a booster dose for previously vaccinated individuals, according to an announcement posted on an official city social media account.
A video posted by an online Chinese state media outlet showed people at a community health centre putting the short nozzle of a translucent white cup in their mouths. The text alongside the video said that, after slowly inhaling, one individual held his breath for five seconds, with the procedure completed in 20 seconds.
A Shanghai resident said in the video: “It was like drinking a cup of milk tea. When I breathed it in, it tasted a bit sweet.”
Chinese regulators approved the vaccine for use as a booster in September. It was developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Cansino Biologics Inc as an aerosol version of the same company’s one-jab adenovirus vaccine, which uses a relatively harmless cold virus.
Could the inhalation Covid vaccine come to the UK?
There are no plans as of yet for the vaccine to come to the UK, but with trials completed for the vaccine elsewhere and other nasal vaccines being tested globally, this may become an option in the future.
Cansino has said the inhaled vaccine has completed clinical trials in China, Hungary, Pakistan, Malaysia, Argentina and Mexico.
Regulators in India have approved a nasal vaccine - squirted in the nose - but it has yet to be rolled out. The vaccine has been developed in the US and licensed to Indian vaccine-maker Bharat Biotech.
About a dozen nasal vaccines are being tested globally, according to the World Health Organisation. Vaccines that don’t use needles may persuade people who do not like them to get vaccinated against Covid. It would also help expand inoculation in poorer countries because they are easier to administer.
Martin Michaelis, professor of molecular medicine at the University of Kent, said there is also hope that they may be able to induce a local, so-called ‘mucosal’ immune response in the upper airways, which is where respiratory viruses such as Covid enter from.
He said: “The idea is that a strong immune response in the upper airways may be more effective in reducing Covid spread than systemic immunity provided by intramuscular injections.”
However, based on the currently available data, it is not yet clear whether inhaled vaccines provide the same protection from severe disease as vaccines injected by needles into the arm.
Inhaled or intranasal vaccines may become an option in the future for individuals with a fear of needles, but “it remains questionable at this time whether they actually have the potential to improve immune protection and to reduce of Covid spread,” Prof Michaelis added.