China launches mouth-inhaled COVID-19 vaccine

By KEN MORITSUGU
Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese city of Shanghai began administering an inhalable COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday in what appears to be a world first.

The vaccine, a mist that is sucked in through the mouth, is offered free of charge as a booster dose for those already vaccinated, according to an announcement posted on an official social media account for the city.

Needle-free vaccines can persuade people who don’t like getting vaccinated to get vaccinated, as well as helping to expand vaccination in poor countries because they are easier to administer.

China has no vaccination mandates but wants more people to receive booster shots before easing tough pandemic restrictions that are dragging down the economy and increasingly out of sync with the rest of the world.

A video posted by Chinese state media online showed people at a community health center sticking the short tip of a translucent white cup into their mouths. Accompanying text states that after inhaling slowly, an individual held their breath for five seconds, with the entire procedure completed in 20 seconds.

“It was like drinking a cup of milk tea,” a Shanghai resident said in the video. “When I sniffed it, it tasted a bit sweet.”

A vaccine taken in the mouth could also repel the virus before it reaches the rest of the respiratory system, although this partly depends on the size of the droplets, an expert has said.

The larger droplets would drive tusks into parts of the mouth and throat, while the smaller ones would travel further into the body, said India-based immunologist Dr Vineeta Bal.

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 single-shot adenovirus vaccine, which uses a relatively harmless cold virus.

Cansino said the inhaled vaccine has completed clinical trials in China, Hungary, Pakistan, Malaysia, Argentina and Mexico.

Regulators in India have approved a nasal vaccine, another needle-free approach, but it has yet to be rolled out. The vaccine, developed in the United States and licensed to Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech, is injected into the nose.

According to the World Health Organization, a dozen nasal vaccines are currently being tested around the world.

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Associated Press writer Aniruddha Ghosal in New Delhi and video producer Olivia Zhang in Beijing contributed to this report.