The pandemic accelerated decades of research leading to jab-free vaccine

No one wanted COVID-19. The pandemic has created misery, death and hardship, and it isn’t finished yet. Still, the lingering crisis has generated opportunities, by expediting research that may benefit humanity far beyond the pandemic. Inhaled vaccines are one example. I am part of a multidisciplinary team working to make these a practical reality, much sooner than would have been the case without the pandemic.

We are now in the early stages of testing a next-generation COVID-19 vaccine that our earlier research in animals suggests will last longer, be more effective and stand up well to future variants of the COVID-19 virus.

Before COVID-19 emerged, my colleagues and I at McMaster University were working to develop a new inhaled form of vaccine delivery that could finally take on one of the most challenging respiratory infections: tuberculosis, still a scourge in low- and middle-income countries and in remote areas. In Canada it disproportionately affects people living in Inuit Nunangat and First Nations living on reserve.

After decades of work, progress was steady, but slow. The lack of urgency to solve a problem that mainly affects people living in poor conditions had made it difficult to generate the resources and momentum needed to complete our research.

The COVID-19 pandemic, being truly global, created the demand for vaccines, such as the now-familiar ones from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. These vaccines have got us through the immediate crisis, as the virus was spreading rapidly, and have served us well, preventing serious illness and death in countries where vaccines were available.

These vaccines represent great strides, but they are not as effective in all populations, nor are they as robust against new variants as they are against the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

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