Medical workers administer tests at the Bondi Beach COVID-19 testing centre in Sydney
Medical workers administer tests at the Bondi Beach drive-thru coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing center in the wake of new positive cases in Sydney, Australia, June 17, 2021.

SYDNEY - Researchers in Australia are starting clinical trials of a new type of COVID-19 vaccine — a nasal spray. Scientists at Brisbane's Nucleus Network believe that the treatment could be more effective against the virus than the AstraZeneca and Pfizer drugs and that it would allow patients who are afraid of needles to be inoculated.

Despite concerted public health campaigns, the vaccination program in Australia has been slow compared with those of other countries. There have been supply problems, complaints about poor planning by the government and, with the country’s relatively low level of coronavirus cases, complacency and hesitancy in the community.

Australia is accelerating its inoculation rollout. In the future, vaccines could be administered more easily — as a nasal spray designed to “attack the virus” as it enters the body.

Dr. Paul Griffin, medical director at the Nucleus Network, a research organization that’s beginning trials of the nasal therapy, said that while other drugs mostly protect against developing severe symptoms of COVID-19, this one aims to reduce the risk of infection.

“The main benefit is, when we give the vaccine via the same route that the pathogen or the virus gets in through, then hopefully the response will be more adept at actually stopping the virus getting in,” he said. “So, we will get a response that is particularly active at that site, which will hopefully mean that people are much less likely to get infected, which is something that we really want to see with vaccines for this virus.”

An independent ethics committee has approved the Australian trial. Researchers say the nasal spray could be available in a year or two.

Two COVID-19 vaccines — AstraZeneca and Pfizer — are currently approved for use in Australia. This week, health authorities said the AstraZeneca drug would now be recommended for use in people 60 and older, after they received new advice from the country's vaccine experts about the risk of rare blood clots.

The government plans to vaccinate every Australian who wants to be inoculated by the end of 2021. Australia has recorded about 30,000 coronavirus cases. More than 900 people have died.