Covid vaccine pill: Could Covid vaccine be taken as a tablet? When will it be ready?

Vaccine rollout: Jab centre worker slams 'lazy' young people

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Currently, protection against coronavirus comes in the form of a vaccine administered via an injection in the arm. While the vaccine programme has been hugely effective in the fight against the virus, it is time-consuming and expensive to administer millions of doses, boosters of which could be required every year as the virus mutates.

Now, researchers and scientists in Sweden are working on a vaccine tablet, or even an inhaler to administer the shot.

Johan Waborg, CEO of Iconovo at Medicon Village, one of southern Sweden’s largest science parks, told the BBC: “It’s easy and it’s really cheap to produce.

“You just remove a little plastic slip and then the vaccine inhaler is activated and you just put it in your mouth, take a deep breath and inhale.”

Iconovo is collaborating with an immunology research start-up in Stockholm, ISR, which has developed a dry-powder vaccine against COVID-19.

The powder uses manufactured COVID-19 virus proteins for its development.

This is different to Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, which use RNA or DNA that code for these proteins.

The powder can withstand temperatures of up to 40C, making it largely transportable and accessible.

Currently, the commonly available vaccines approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), which are all in liquid form, have to be kept in very specific conditions.

They have to be kept in tough glass vials in temperatures as low as -70C, before being transferred to fridges, or they lose effectiveness – known as the “cold chain”.

ISR’s founder, Ola Winquist, a professor of immunology at the Karolinska Institute, said: “The game-changer is that you could distribute the [powder] vaccine extremely easily without the cold chain, and it can be administered without the need for healthcare providers.”

The company is currently testing its vaccines on the Beta (South African) and Alpha (UK) variants of COVID-19.

The company believes it could prove especially useful in speeding up vaccine rollouts in Africa where there are currently no home-grown vaccine manufacturers.

Countries with warmer climates and limited electricity supplies could also benefit, having had to major challenges when it comes to storing and delivering COVID-19 vaccines before they expire.

When could this be ready?

There is still some way to go before trials indicate the full potential of ISR’s air-dried vaccine, including whether it can offer the same level of protection as the current list of vaccines approved by the WHO.

So far, it has only been tested on mice, although ISR and Iconovo have raised enough funding to begin studies on humans within the next two months.

But the medical community is optimistic.

Stefan Swartling Peterson, Unicef’s global health chief from 2016 to 2020, now professor of global transformation for health at Karolinska, said: “It would really open up opportunities for hard-to-reach areas and maybe save us having people carrying cool boxes on bicycles and camels.”

Ingrid Kromann, a spokesperson for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (Cepi), a global non-profit organisation working to accelerate the development of vaccines, said: “We have to be able to get vaccines to populations in all settings to tackle epidemics and pandemics globally.”

She said that if the drive for powdered vaccines is successful, “it could contribute to better access to vaccines, less wastage, and lower costs of vaccination programmes”.

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