Covid-19: A New Generation of Vaccines Is Coming, Some With No Needles

The coronavirus outbreak made household names of companies like Moderna Inc. and BioNTech SE, whose shots offered hope for ending the pandemic. Now a new wave of vaccines is on the horizon that may get the world over the finish line of inoculation.

Protecting 7.7 billion people is a herculean task. There are more than 250 vaccine candidates in the wings to take on the challenge, including 82 in human studies. In addition to sheer numbers, they offer unique benefits compared to the dozen now available.

The next generation includes shots built from the coronavirus’s genetic material and nasal sprays that defend without using a needle at all. They are stealthy, faster to make and easier to ship, offering workarounds for hurdles that limit the impact of the first inoculations to reach the market.

“It’s absolutely essential to share vaccine products with the entire world as quickly as possible,” said Richard Hatchett, chief executive officer of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which accelerates development of vaccines, including those against Covid-19. “The virus will have less opportunity to evolve, and it will slow down the rates of mutation that we’re seeing.”

Here’s what you need to know about the next wave of vaccines:

One-Shot Wonders
With most Covid vaccines requiring two shots, those that need only one will simplify the process. This approach is known as viral vector technology. It uses an unrelated virus, one that’s been modified so it doesn’t cause infection, to insert the directions for making the coronavirus’ spike protein into healthy cells. Those cells then crank out large amounts of the spike protein, triggering an immune response. Of the dozen candidates in human studies, most involve one injection.

Response Trigger
The most common type of vaccine now in human trials—accounting for nearly one-third of those in development—protein subunit shots use a fragment of the virus to generate an immune response. It’s usually the famed spike protein that dots the surface of the coronavirus, combined with a chemical known as an adjuvant to deepen the reaction.

Virus Decoy
These vaccines contain a coronavirus decoy—a protein shell whose shape closely mimics the virus without any of its genetic material. The so-called virus-like particle is still able to generate an immune response against the real thing.

DNA Building Block
Like the breakthrough mRNA vaccines from Pfizer Inc., BioNTech and Moderna, DNA vaccines insert a bit of genetic code into a human cell. The cell becomes a factory, producing the coronavirus spike protein to elicit an immune response. The DNA vaccines have to take an extra step, though. They must convert the genetic material into mRNA, which contains directions for making the proteins. Should a vaccine using this approach get to the market, it would be the first of its kind.

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