A health worker collects a nasal swab sample from a woman to test for COVID-19 at a hospital in Amritsar on Jan. 5, 2023.
This week India launched its first nasal COVID-19 vaccine, four months after it received approval for its restricted emergency use among adults in the country.
The mucosal vaccine, made by India’s leading vaccine maker, Bharat Biotech, is based on technology licensed from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, in the U.S.
It is administered in the form of drops in the nose and stimulates an immune response in the mucous membranes of the tissues lining the nasal cavity, upper airways and lungs.
Originally called BBV154 and now sold by Bharat Biotech as iNCOVACC, the nasal vaccine was launched by Indian Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Thursday, Republic Day, a national holiday in the country.
“Proud to launch iNCOVACC, the world’s 1st intranasal vaccine for COVID … A mighty display of India’s research and innovation prowess under PM Narendra Modi Ji’s leadership. Congratulations to Bharat Biotech for this feat!” Mandaviya posted on Twitter.
He called the vaccine a “historic achievement & a testimony to the innovative zeal” of India’s scientists.
In a statement, Bharat Biotech said that iNCOVACC, the “world’s first intranasal COVID vaccine for primary series and heterologous booster” is now available on CoWIN, India’s vaccine portal that digitally tracks people’s vaccination status.
It will cost 800 rupees ($9.80) in private hospitals and 325 rupees ($4) in government hospitals. A heterologous booster is the vaccine dose for people who have already received two doses of Covishield or Covaxin, the two common Indian COVID vaccines.
“iNCOVACC is a cost-effective COVID vaccine which does not require syringes, needles, alcohol wipes, bandage, etc., saving costs related to procurement, distribution, storage, and biomedical waste disposal, that is routinely required for injectable vaccines,” the statement said.
“Amid growing COVID-19 cases and emerging variants of the highly transmissible virus, a booster dose of the vaccine becomes imperative. As [a] needleless vaccination, Bharat Biotech’s iNCOVACC will be the world’s first such booster dose … The nasal delivery system has been designed and developed to be cost-effective in low- and middle-income countries,” the statement added.
Dr. Krishna Ella, chairman of Bharat Biotech, told ANI news agency that iNCOVACC was “easy to deliver” since no syringe is required and that it resulted in a broader immune response as compared with injectable COVID vaccines.
In a Sept. 7 news release, the Washington University School of Medicine said that since the adenoviral nasal vaccine — which is known as iNCOVACC in India — is delivered via the nose, right where the virus enters the body, it has the “potential to block infection and break the cycle of transmission, as well as prevent lung damage.”
“The nasal delivery system was designed and developed to be cost-effective, a feature that is especially important in low- and middle-income countries, and the vaccine can be stored in a refrigerator. Receiving the vaccine requires only a brief inhalation, a major plus to the many people who prefer to avoid needles,” the statement said.
Dr. Michael S. Diamond, a professor of molecular microbiology, pathology & immunology, and a co-inventor of the nasal vaccine technology, was quoted in the news release as saying: “Nasal vaccines induce the type of protective immunity that we think will prevent or limit infection and also curb pandemic transmission of this virus.”
On Friday, Diamond told VOA that “it is exciting” to see the deployment of iNCOVACC in India as a nasally delivered vaccine and booster.
“The continued waves of COVID-19 infection necessitate new strategies to overcome transmission. By generating immunity in the upper respiratory tract at the portal of entry of the virus, this vaccine has the potential to better limit [the] spread of the virus than other approaches,” Diamond said.