Before the Corona winter: Vaccination expert Sander: "We absolutely need nasal vaccines"

Experts on the subject of Corona are looking to the upcoming autumn and the coming winter with some confidence.

Before the Corona winter: Vaccination expert Sander: "We absolutely need nasal vaccines"

Experts on the subject of Corona are looking to the upcoming autumn and the coming winter with some confidence. Thanks to better data, adapted vaccines and better medication, the country is better prepared, said infectiologist Sander from the Charité. However, it is too early to give the all-clear.

Actually, everyone could relax a bit: Germany is better prepared for the Corona winter than in the two previous pandemic years. "We have a much, much better situation than ever before," says Leif Erik Sander, head of infectiology at the Berlin Charité. This winter, better data will be collected on the number of corona patients in hospitals and we will therefore know more precisely how many infected people are treated not only in intensive care but also in normal wards. Access for antiviral drugs will also be better, and adapted vaccines will also make a difference.

And yet he is not giving the all-clear - it will be a difficult winter: the situation is tense due to the lack of staff and the economic problems in the hospitals, says the member of the Federal Government's Expert Council. Due to the expected waves of illness, the burden will increase in the coming months.

How many serious cases there will be in the coming months also depends on the willingness of the population to be boosted again. In the coming week, a new vaccine that is adapted to the omicron variant BA.5 that is prevalent in Germany is to come into practice. Because time was of the essence, the US health authority FDA and the European Medicines Agency EMA had approved the vaccine from Biontech/Pfizer without final clinical studies - a not unusual procedure. That's how it's been done with flu vaccination for years, emphasizes Sander.

Doctors' practices have already received other adapted vaccines this week: the vaccines from Moderna and Biontech/Pfizer that have been modified for the BA.1 variant. Overall, the adapted vaccines do not differ significantly from those that many have already received, explains Sander: "The chemical composition is exactly the same." There are only minimal changes to the mRNA molecule that ensure that the new vaccines work better against omicron.

Adjustments to the vaccines were necessary because the virus is constantly changing. It mutates to evade the immunity brought on by infection and vaccination. The researchers also know this from other viruses, but unlike the flu virus, for example, the corona virus does not change slowly, but by leaps and bounds. How the Omicron variant will develop cannot be predicted, Sander speaks of "random events".

The immunologist cannot emphasize that the disease-causing properties of the virus continue to weaken, as some claim. There are changes that he classifies as worrying - such as a line in India at the moment. It is crucial which variants prevail.

From a fourth vaccination with an adapted vaccine, the researchers expect "a broadening of the immune response," as Sander says. "So that you may also be protected against future virus variants." In addition, one hopes for improved protection against infections, although it is clear that vaccines that are injected into the muscle would never protect 100 percent against infection.

A very big advance are nasal vaccinations. In other words, nasal sprays that you use every three months when in doubt and that ensure so-called mucosal immunity. "They could have the advantage of massively reducing the infection and also the transmission of the virus," says the vaccination expert. "That's why I think we absolutely need nasal vaccines!"

For example, Sander thinks it could be used in old people's homes. Also, with nasal vaccines, the dose would be lower and you wouldn't need doctors to administer the spray. However, too little research is currently being done on this solution in the western hemisphere.

So this winter the upper arms have to be used again for the vaccinations. The good news: Sander says that all vaccines that doctors are currently vaccinating in Germany protect very well against illness and death. This also applies to the then "old" vaccines that were developed against the wild type of the virus. Anyone who has just been boosted with it has made the right decision.

If Leif Erik Sander himself had to choose a vaccine, he would choose the one adapted to the latest omicron variant. It is still unclear which recommendation the Standing Vaccination Committee at the Robert Koch Institute (STIKO) will give for the adapted vaccines.

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