Rapid Protection from COVID-19 in Nonhuman Primates Vaccinated Intramuscularly but Not Intranasally with a Single Dose of a Vesicular Stomatitis Virus-Based Vaccine

mBio. 2022 Jan 11;e0337921. doi: 10.1128/mbio.03379-21. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

The ongoing pandemic of coronavirus (CoV) disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to exert a significant burden on health care systems worldwide. With limited treatments available, vaccination remains an effective strategy to counter transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome CoV 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Recent discussions concerning vaccination strategies have focused on identifying vaccine platforms, number of doses, route of administration, and time to reach peak immunity against SARS-CoV-2. Here, we generated a single-dose, fast-acting vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV)-based vaccine derived from the licensed Ebola virus (EBOV) vaccine rVSV-ZEBOV, expressing the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and the EBOV glycoprotein (VSV-SARS2-EBOV). Rhesus macaques vaccinated intramuscularly (i.m.) with a single dose of VSV-SARS2-EBOV were protected within 10 days and did not show signs of COVID-19 pneumonia. In contrast, intranasal (i.n.) vaccination resulted in limited immunogenicity and enhanced COVID-19 pneumonia compared to results for control animals. While both i.m. and i.n. vaccination induced neutralizing antibody titers, only i.m. vaccination resulted in a significant cellular immune response. RNA sequencing data bolstered these results by revealing robust activation of the innate and adaptive immune transcriptional signatures in the lungs of i.m. vaccinated animals only. Overall, the data demonstrate that VSV-SARS2-EBOV is a potent single-dose COVID-19 vaccine candidate that offers rapid protection based on the protective efficacy observed in our study. IMPORTANCE The vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) vaccine platform rose to fame in 2019, when a VSV-based Ebola virus (EBOV) vaccine was approved by the European Medicines Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for human use against the deadly disease. Here, we demonstrate the protective efficacy of a VSV-EBOV-based COVID-19 vaccine against challenge in nonhuman primates (NHPs). When a single dose of the VSV-SARS2-EBOV vaccine was administered intramuscularly (i.m.), the NHPs were protected from COVID-19 within 10 days. In contrast, if the vaccine was administered intranasally, there was no benefit from the vaccine and the NHPs developed pneumonia. The i.m. vaccinated NHPs quickly developed antigen-specific IgG, including neutralizing antibodies. Transcriptional analysis highlighted the development of protective innate and adaptive immune responses in the i.m. vaccination group only.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; VSV; i.m.; i.n.; rhesus macaques; vesicular stomatitis virus.