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A COVID-19 booster is coming — and you might be able to inhale it

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We’ve been talking about COVID-19 vaccine booster shots almost as long as we’ve been talking about COVID-19. It was clear from the start that this virus would be a quickly moving target due to its terrifying tendency to mutate. As scary as it sounds, mutating is just kind of what viruses — like the flu — do, though, so medical science already knows how to deal with it: Booster shots. But as common as vaccine boosters are, the new COVID-19 boosters may be a little different because you may need to inhale or wear your next vaccination.

The three most prominent vaccine makers — Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna — are already testing boosters, which are basically the same as their original vaxes but in smaller doses. And we could see them really soon. "With many vaccines, we understand that at a certain point in time we need to boost, whether that's 9 months, 12 months. And we are preparing for that," David Kessler, chief science officer for the Biden administration's COVID-19 response, told CBS in April. In other words, as terrifying as it is to see the COVID-19 mutations ravage India, it’s normal for variants to occur and it’s normal for us to need vaccine boosters.

Unlike other vaccine boosters (such as measles or tetanus), however, the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines could come in the form of intranasal inhalants, patches, or they could be combined with your yearly flu vax, CBS reported. Moderna is planning trials for its flu-COVID combo shot late this year and NIH recently released promising research on a vax that you can inhale. (To be clear, that research was done on monkeys and it is not clear whether the vax was inhaled as a gas or if we might get to snort it in the form of fat rails.)

Other alternatives to shots that are being researched come in the form of pills and patches, which are scientifically important, but decidedly less fun for parties. Vaxess Technologies is working on a patch that it says is painless and shelf stable, which — if it pans out — would be a massive improvement over the prickly fragile vaxes currently available.

The hope is that these alt booster shots will be successful in smaller trials so they can get up our noses as quickly as possible, and the Biden administration is partnering up with private vax makers to make that happen. "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,” Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority Director Gary Disbrow told CBS. Let’s hope that this public-private collab yields results faster than the virus can mutate.

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