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Study shows nasal vaccine may provide lasting immunity against multiple COVID-19 variants

Ohio State employee Stacey Boyer, left, receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from Kelli Barnes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio.
Jay LaPrete
Associated Press

Researchers at The Ohio State University report that measles and mumps vaccines combined with the COVID-19 strain SARS-CoV-2 could provide long-lasting immunity to many COVID-19 variants.

The trivalent vaccine that would protect against measles, mumps and COVID-19 strains has been successful in tests with mice and hamsters.

Jianrong Li, a professor of biology in Ohio State’s Department of Veterinary Biosciences and the senior author of the study said the vaccine is intranasal, meaning it is given as a nasal spray. Research shows the vaccine can trigger an antibody response and protect mucosal, or mucus-producing, areas in the nose and lungs.

“If you can generate a strong mucosal immunity in the nose and also the lung, that way you can neutralize the virus coming into the nose,” Li said.

He said he believes the intranasal vaccine can provide long-lasting protection against current and emerging variants of COVID-19. In hamsters, SARS-CoV-2 antibodies induced by the trivalent vaccine lasted at least four months. The vaccine also protected against the delta and omicron variants.

Measles and mumps were used as a base because those vaccines have been used for many years in the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR vaccine, which is given to children, Li explained.

“So, we’re building on a 50-year safety record," Li said.

Li called MMR a “very promising platform” for COVID-19 vaccines.

He said his hope is to one day include SARS-CoV-2 in the MMR vaccine, making a quadrivalent vaccine that could produce long-term or lifetime protection against COVID-19 strains.

Li pointed out that the research still has a long way to go. He said the next step will be testing in primates, and then it will eventually be tested in humans.

Allie Vugrincic has been a radio reporter at WOSU 89.7 NPR News since March 2023.