Your COVID Vaccine Booster May Look Completely Different, Researchers Say

Allie Hogan
·4 min read

With more than half of the people in the U.S. at least partially vaccinated, many are looking ahead to the booster shots they'll almost certainly need. It may feel daunting to think about sitting down for a third shot and potentially enduring another round of side effects. But there is a silver lining, particularly for people who aren't fond of needles: Researchers now say that the COVID vaccine booster may not be a shot at all. Read on to find out how your next vaccination could be dramatically different, and for more on the future of the COVID vaccine, This Is When You'll Need a Third COVID Shot, BioNTech CEO Says.

Researchers are working on COVID vaccine boosters that aren't shots.

While vaccination continues across the country, researchers are already working on the next iteration of the COVID vaccine. A booster several months after your original vaccination will likely be necessary to help maintain your immunity and protect you from variants. To make these COVID vaccine boosters easier to give, researchers have begun to look into alternate modes of administration.

"It's critically important down the road to have vaccines that are easier to handle and have better cold-chain characteristics," John Mascola, MD, director of the vaccine-research center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told The Wall Street Journal. Researchers are working toward COVID vaccine boosters in at least three different formats right now. And for more on boosters down the line, Moderna CEO Says a Booster Shot Will Be Available by This Date.

Your vaccine booster may be a nasal spray.

Researchers say that future COVID vaccines might be inhaled through the nose via a nasal spray. An April 1 study from the NIAID tested a single-dose intranasal vaccine on monkeys and found that it protected their lungs and nasal region from COVID. According to The Wall Street Journal, there's a nasal spray in the works from Altimmune that's similar to the FluMist influenza vaccine from AstraZeneca that's often given to children during flu season.

The design of the nasal spray vaccine is similar to the Johnson&Johnson and AstraZeneca COVID vaccines, but since it's a nasal spray, it may induce another type of immune response called mucosal immunity. This response could help wipe the virus from the respiratory tract, which could reduce transmission in addition to symptomatic cases, Altimmune's chief scientific officer Scott Roberts, PhD, told The Wall Street Journal. "It's a very easy and efficient way to administer the vaccine," he said. "You don't need needles and syringes." And for more on the timeline of vaccination, Pfizer's CEO Just Said How Often You'll Need a COVID Vaccine.

You may also be able to take a pill or put on a patch.

Your next COVID vaccine could be as easy as swallowing a pill or slapping a patch on your arm. Companies have begun investing research and funds into developing these new kinds of vaccines. Last year, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) announced they would work to develop multiple alternatives to shots for the COVID vaccine. In a statement, the company said that "a wearable skin patch or oral option for vaccines may support rapid, large-scale immunization while reducing the strain on the manufacturing supply chain."

BARDA Director Gary Disbrow, PhD, told CBS, "We're working with the companies, with the different technologies, to potentially partner them with the six vaccine candidates that are currently being supported by the U.S. government." The company hopes to demonstrate, through smaller trials, that the vaccines result in a similar immune response as the vaccines currently available in the U.S. And for more COVID vaccine news delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

The COVID vaccine booster shot could be combined with the annual flu shot.

Your next COVID vaccine could be combined with the flu shot, providing you with antibodies to both illnesses at once. On April 4, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told CNBC's Squawk Box, "What we're trying to do at Moderna actually is try to get a flu vaccine in the clinic this year and then combine our flu vaccine to our COVID vaccine, so you only have to get one boost at your local CVS store … every year that would protect you to the variant of concern against COVID and the seasonal flu strain." And for more vaccine guidance, There's a 50 Percent Chance You'll Make This Mistake When Getting Vaccinated.