While the Coronavirus pandemic has eased with mass vaccination and the reduced threat of the Omicron variant, it remains a significant health threat that may be with us for many years to come, meaning it remains a key issue for the global pharmaceuticals sector.

The task of distribution has been much easier in some parts of the world than others, which has contributed to the lower take-up in some low-income countries, along with economic inequities.

This has left the World Health Organisation lamenting the situation, especially in Africa which accounts for most of the 56 countries that did not manage to vaccinate ten per cent of their population by last September.

Of course, it is easier to distribute vaccines in countries with better infrastructure, hospitals and storage facilities. That is one reason that new methods of delivery may make a difference. Another, which would also be useful in countries where vaccines are readily available, is that needle-free delivery would be useful for those whose trypanophobia has held them back from getting jabbed.

Possible alternatives include both oral pills and nasal spray vaccines. In the latter case, research has been taking place at many institutions, such as Trinity College in Dublin, on the basis that this method could have medical advantages over injection.

One of the immunology researchers, Professor Kingston Mills, told the Midlands 103 radio station: “Rather than injecting the vaccines, we and some other groups have shown that being immunised in the nose, where the infection starts, generates a local immunity there and this stops the virus in its tracks.”

He added: “This is probably going to be the way forward, administering vaccines by the nasal route.”

Similar sentiments were expressed in India by the chairman of Bharat Biotech, Dr Krishna Ella, Mint reports. In an interview, he said the new nasal vaccine developed in partnership with the Washington University School 0f Medicine in St Louis “is a game-changer as it will prevent infection and the transmission of the disease”.

Mr Ella added that stage 3 trials are now underway, meaning this vaccine may be available in India and beyond within months.

A key question, of course, is whether the development of new delivery methods is the top priority at a time when the world is watching to see if any new variants arise.

The Medical University of Vienna is currently working on an antigen-based vaccine, with the preclinical data, published in the journal Allergy, indicating that it could be effective in creating sterilising immunity against all variants so far found, including Omicron. 

Research leader Rudolf Valentina said the evidence so far is the vaccine is “suitable for use in all age and risk groups and appears to be superior to currently available vaccines when it comes to inducing neutralizing antibodies”.

The latter is an issue because so far, around 20 per cent of those vaccinated had not produced sterilising antibodies in response, making them especially vulnerable to multiple infections.

Because it apparently works on all variants, such a vaccine may have a vital global role to play if a new and more dangerous variant arises, whether delivered by injection or nasally.