DETROIT (WXYZ) — Pharmaceutical companies are already hard at work to make the next generation of vaccines for COVID-19 easier to administer, less invasive in some cases, and more effective against a wider range of illnesses.
Pfizer and Moderna are already conducting trials to evaluate booster vaccines to protect against new variants, the results of which are expected later this year.
The three COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use in the U.S. are safe and effective; however, vaccine hesitancy continues to stand in the way of herd immunity. It's also something bio-tech companies will continue in battle as they develop new vaccines and treatments.
"I don’t trust it, I’m afraid of it," said Kai Franks of Redford. Franks said she doesn't feel she knows enough about what's in the vaccines currently available, and doesn't trust some of the information she's heard. She's made the choice to not get vaccinated, along with her son.
“They have to be as good or better than the current vaccines that we have," said Dr. Paul Kilgore, an associate professor and the director of research in the Department of Pharmacy Practice within the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at Wayne State University.
Kilgore, who is also a senior investigator with Henry Ford Health System's Global Health Initiative, told Action News hitting that gold standard takes time.
“The first approach is to develop an mRNA vaccine very similar in design to the original vaccine that Pfizer and Moderna have, but what they will have is a new sequence in the mRNA that corresponds to the new spike protein in the variant," he said.
And the need for boosters as antibodies wane over time is generally expected.
"The influenza vaccine changes every year or every other year to kind of match the influenza strains that are circulating and so that's a scenario that we've had to deal with in the past and it's possible that that will be the situation with COVID-19," said Dr. Scot Roberts, the Chief Scientific Officer for Altimmune, a company based in Maryland currently working on an intranasal inhalable COVID-19 vaccine.
"It's also possible that improved vaccines can provide better coverage so we don't have to change as often," Roberts said.
Altimmune is currently in clinical testing for its intranasal spray.
“We’re in our Phase 1 clinical trial and we expect to have the results for that in just a few weeks," Roberts told Action News.
Altimmune expects to start phase three studies later this year.
“What we’re trying to do is get the vaccine out to more people, make it easier to administer, make people more willing to take the vaccine," said Roberts, who called the global collaboration on the first approved vaccines "a watershed moment" for scientists.
An inhalable vaccine would be easier to administer because it wouldn't require the level of medical training traditional subcutaneous shots in arms do. Dr. Roberts said it would also be easier to store, not requiring ultra cool temperatures for storage.
We asked Franks if mode of delivery would impact her decision to get vaccinated at all, and she said no. She doesn't see herself changing her mind in the future either.
Detroiter Beverly Tolliver did choose to get vaccinated.
“Our church family, my personal family, we’ve been touched by death," she said.
She, too, agrees that ditching the needle won't be a quick fix to convince people to accept a vaccine, but thinks that overall, more time and science might convince vaccine skeptics.
“They see more people getting it and it comes out in different forms, people will feel a little bit more comfortable," she said.
Another company, Immunity Bio based in California, is hoping to get approval for its vaccine candidate, which received the green light last month to test as a booster on already vaccinated South African healthcare workers. The company plans to explore four different modes of delivery: a shot in the arm, a droplet under the tongue, a capsule, and a nasal spray.
“When we start to talk about new approaches by mouth or by capsule or by nose, that takes longer time to validate and double check the safety and efficacy of," explained Dr. Kilgore. “It’ll take several months and perhaps years to actually finalize those so they’re approved for use.”
"The booster vaccines on the other hand, that utilize the same platform that we already for the existing mRNA vaccines, those could be available later this year in fact."