An intranasally administrated SARS-CoV-2 beta variant subunit booster vaccine prevents beta variant replication in rhesus macaques

PNAS Nexus. 2022 Jun 17;1(3):pgac091. doi: 10.1093/pnasnexus/pgac091. eCollection 2022 Jul.


Emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants and waning of vaccine/infection-induced immunity pose threats to curbing the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective, safe, and convenient booster vaccines are in need. We hypothesized that a variant-modified mucosal booster vaccine might induce local immunity to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection at the port of entry. The beta-variant is one of the hardest to cross-neutralize. Herein, we assessed the protective efficacy of an intranasal booster composed of beta variant-spike protein S1 with IL-15 and TLR agonists in previously immunized macaques. The macaques were first vaccinated with Wuhan strain S1 with the same adjuvant. A total of 1 year later, negligibly detectable SARS-CoV-2-specific antibody remained. Nevertheless, the booster induced vigorous humoral immunity including serum- and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL)-IgG, secretory nasal- and BAL-IgA, and neutralizing antibody against the original strain and/or beta variant. Beta-variant S1-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses were also elicited in PBMC and BAL. Following SARS-CoV-2 beta variant challenge, the vaccinated group demonstrated significant protection against viral replication in the upper and lower respiratory tracts, with almost full protection in the nasal cavity. The fact that one intranasal beta-variant booster administrated 1 year after the first vaccination provoked protective immunity against beta variant infections may inform future SARS-CoV-2 booster design and administration timing.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; adjuvanted subunit vaccine; beta variant; booster vaccine; intranasal mucosal vaccine.