Needle-free: COVID vaccine patch provides better protection against Omicron, other variants

BRISBANE, Australia — For many, a fear of needles is keeping them from getting a COVID-19 shot. Now, however, a vaccine patch that offers even more robust coronavirus protection is on the way. In comparison to traditional needle vaccines, scientists at the University of Queensland report that the new COVID vaccine patch could offer stronger resistance to variants such as Omicron and Delta.

This research, conducted in partnership with Brisbane biotechnology company Vaxxas, analyzed the Hexapro SARS-CoV-2 spike vaccine using Vaxxas high-density microarray patch (HD-MAP) technology. According to Dr. Christopher McMillan of Queensland University, researchers found the patch is far more effective than current SARS-CoV-2 injection-based vaccines at neutralizing COVID variants.

“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 says in a university release. “We found that vaccination via a patch was approximately 11 times more effective at combatting the Omicron variant when compared with the same vaccine administered via a needle.”

Dr. McMillan adds that this work potentially extends far beyond just the Hexapro vaccine.

“So far, every vaccine type we have tested through the patch, including subunit, DNA, inactivated virus and conjugate produces superior immune responses compared to traditional needle vaccination methods,” he explains.

Injections can’t keep up with COVID’s mutations

Meanwhile, UQ’s Dr. David Muller speculates that current COVID-19 vaccines may not offer the same level of protection due to the continual parade of new coronavirus variants. The constantly evolving nature of SARS-CoV-2 has left researchers at a crossroads.

“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,” Muller explains. “However, the patch technology has the potential to offer a new – and more effective – weapon in our arsenal, at a time where new variants are mutating at a rapid rate. The patches are not only more effective against emerging variants but are also far easier to administer than needle-based vaccines.”

Of course, Dr. Muller stresses that currently available needle-based vaccines are still an effective way of better protecting the public from both COVID-19 infection and serious symptoms.

“We are continuing to scale-up our manufacturing capabilities and accelerate product development in preparation for large-scale clinical trials,” concludes Vaxxas CEO David Hoey. “This includes construction of our first manufacturing facility in Brisbane to support the transition to commercializing of our HD-MAP vaccine candidates, including a Hexapro COVID-19 patch.”

The findings appear in the journal Vaccine.

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