COVID-19 Vaccine Patch Trial Shows Promise in Fighting Variants

A needle-free vaccine patch could be more effective in fighting COVID-19 variants, such as Omicron and Delta, than a traditional needle vaccine, a study in mice by the University of Queensland (UQ) shows.

The research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Vaccine, was conducted in partnership with Brisbane biotechnology company Vaxxas. Researchers tested the Hexapro SARS-CoV-2 spike vaccine using the Vaxxas high-density microarray patch (HD-MAP) technology.

UQ's Dr. Christopher McMillan said the vaccine patch appeared to counteract new variants more effectively than the current SARs-CoV-2 vaccine delivered by injection.

"The high-density microarray patch is a vaccine delivery platform that precisely delivers the vaccine into the layers of the skin which are rich in immune cells," Dr. McMillan said.

"We found that vaccination via a patch was approximately 11 times more effective at combating the Omicron variant when compared with the same vaccine administered via a needle."

UQ's Dr. David Muller said that currently-available vaccines might not be as effective because of the constantly emerging new variants of COVID-19. This decreased effectiveness was highlighted by the Omicron variant, which contains over 30 mutations in the spike protein.

"The large number of mutations have given the virus the ability to evade the immune responses generated by the current vaccines," he said in the University's press release.

According to Dr. Muller, the patches are more effective against emerging variants and far easier to administer than needle-based vaccines.

Phobia contributes to vaccine hesitancy

Scientists are working on different COVID-19 vaccines. In 2020, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine developed a COVID-19 vaccine PittCoVacc, delivered via a Band-Aid-like fingertip-sized patch using 400 tiny needles. In preclinical studies with mice, the vaccine produced antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 at quantities thought to be sufficient for neutralizing the virus.

A vaccine patch could be good news for those for those with a fear of needles. A 2021 Oxford University survey of more than 15,000 adults in the UK found that needle phobia accounted for 10% of instances of vaccine hesitancy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that Omicron is a dominant strain in the US, with subvariant BA.5 accounting for 85% of all cases.

The study on Omicron variants BA.2.12.1, BA.4, & BA.5, published in the science journal Nature, reveals that the strains are 4.2-fold more resistant to antibodies stimulated by RNA vaccines than previous variants of Omicron.


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