#WhatTheFAQ: World's first nasal COVID-19 vaccine rolled out! What's the cost? Can you take it?

Bharat Biotech in collaboration with Washington University at St Louis brought out the vaccine, iNCOVACC
Pic credits: Edex Live
Pic credits: Edex Live

It is intriguing to know that the COVID-19 vaccine can now be administered nasally. On Friday, December 23, Health Minister Dr Mansukh Mandaviya announced the approval of the world's first nasal COVID vaccine iNCOVACC, developed by Bharat Biotech, the company which manufactures Covaxin. The vaccine is also available on the Cowin app now and people just have to select the centre and report there to get it. But hold on... the prices haven't been fixed yet. Read on for more on the vaccine.

How was the vaccine developed?
Bharat Biotech in collaboration with Washington University at St Louis brought out the vaccine. According to news reports, the vaccine uses a modified chimpanzee adenovirus that cannot replicate in the body to carry the COVID spike protein. While the university developed the vector to carry the spike protein, Bharat Biotech handled the product development and manufacturing capability, as per a report in The Indian Express.

What about trials?
Two types of trials for the vaccine were carried out in various locations across India. While the first type was made with iNCOVACC as a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine, it was tried as a booster dose in the second type. For both types, Phase III human trials have been completed. For the first type, about 3,100 people were screened in 14 cities, while 875 participants from nine cities were screened for the second type. Then, iNCOVACC received EUA (Emergency Use Authorization) from DGCI (Drugs Controller General of India) as a primary two-dose vaccine in September and as a booster dose in November.

So, who can take iNCOVACC? And how?
Currently, the vaccine is approved as a heterologous (mix-and-match) booster dose for all adults above 18 years of age who have taken either Covishield or Covaxin. In the initial process of its rollout, the government announced that iNCOVACC will be available in private hospitals only. People can register through the Cowin app and go to the nearest centre. The vaccine will be administered into the nostrils. It will be a two-dose series, to be taken four weeks apart. A total of eight drops (0.5 ml per dose), four in each nostril, will be given.

Are there any side effects?
According to a report by The Times of India, Dr Chandrashekhar Gillurkar, the principal investigator of the trials said that none of the participants in phases I and II of the trials experienced any side effects or serious health issues. Other news reports too, quoting various health officials, claim that the vaccine has not shown any side effects so far, and in very few cases, people experienced effects like headache, runny nose, nasal congestion and the like, which did not last very long.

Will the nasal vaccine prove to be a breakthrough?
While the vaccine is hailed by many, and touted to be a great tool in the fight against the pandemic, some experts also opine that it may be too early to make any such statements. Data is also insufficient to compare iNCOVACC with the other available regular vaccines. However, with the development of iNCOVACC, COVID-19 vaccine administration and storage have certainly become easier. The nasal vaccine can be stored in environments with temperatures ranging from 2 to 8 degree Celsius, which is the normal fridge temperature. And since it does not require needles, the vaccine can be given with a dropper hassle-free.

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