There have already been some forecasts as to when the pandemic could be over - but now Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach (SPD) is bringing a whole new criterion into play. On Sunday, he shared an essay by American scientists on the subject of nasal corona vaccines on Twitter and wrote: “The pandemic will end when we achieve mucosal immunity, for example via nasal vaccines. Far too little money is being invested here. We could already have such vaccines.”
Two questions arise from the tweet: Can corona vaccines, which can be sprayed like a nasal spray, actually herald the end of the pandemic? And is it true that the relevant research was not funded enough – also by the federal government?
The Federal Ministry of Health (BMG) states that the Federal Ministry of Research, headed by Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP), is responsible for "general research funding". There they are irritated by Minister Lauterbach's criticism. Publicly funded research on the type of administration of active ingredients is "superficially the responsibility of the BMG," said a spokeswoman at WELT's request.
Nevertheless, at the beginning of August, the Ministry of Research began funding a corresponding research project at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich, which is scheduled to run for three years and is being supported with 1.7 million euros. But is that enough - and can the vaccine through the nose actually become a game changer in fighting the pandemic?
The head of the Munich project is Josef Rosenecker, head of the outpatient clinic for rehabilitative and preventive pediatrics at the LMU. He explains WELT: The biggest advantage of nasal vaccines is that a very high number of antibodies form on the mucous membrane in the nasopharynx. "We therefore assume that the nasal vaccines can also prevent infections," says Rosenecker. "That would be the end of the pandemic, Mr. Lauterbach is right."
Other advantages are that there is no pain from the needle prick and the powder for the nasal spray does not have to be transported at very low temperatures, as is the case with other Covid vaccines. In addition, HIV infections could be prevented in poorer countries because there is no need for needle sticks. According to Rosenecker, his team needs a total of around 15 million euros to be able to enter phase 1 of the clinical studies. “We are trying very hard to get more funding.” However, it would take “at least three more years” before the vaccines can actually be administered to the population.
But not all scientists agree that nasal vaccination could actually become the decisive factor in the pandemic. Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, virologist at the Bernhard Nocht Institute in Hamburg, considers it fundamentally important to also have vaccines with a different mechanism of action, for example for risk groups. "But the nasal vaccines are by no means necessary to end the pandemic," says Schmidt-Chanasit. The infections that are currently occurring in the millions have already led to better mucosal immunity than the mRNA vaccines could achieve. “As a society, you determine the end of the pandemic by discussing what burden of disease we are willing to accept.”
Similar tones come from the FDP. "Basically, I think nasal vaccines are promising," says Andrew Ullmann, infectiologist and health policy spokesman for the liberal parliamentary group. Good experiences have already been made with appropriate flu vaccinations for children. However, nasal vaccinations are not a prerequisite for an end to the pandemic. "We are already in the final phase, as many people are already immunized through their vaccination or infection," says Ullmann.
Tino Sorge (CDU), health policy spokesman for the Union faction, warns against excessive expectations. Nasal vaccines are still in development, sometimes only in early phases. It would be premature to derive an end to the pandemic from this. "The Minister's personal opinion does not take precedence over scientific studies, which we have yet to await."
Meanwhile, epidemiologist Timo Ulrichs observes a discrepancy between conventional vaccine development, which is “progressing rapidly”, and the less rapid development of other vaccines. "The technology would be there" to prevent infections, says Ulrichs. "Exactly that would massively inhibit the transmission of the virus." In other words, as was hoped for from all anti-corona vaccines at the beginning of the pandemic.
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