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Next era of COVID protection could come in form of pill or spray

MIAMI – The latest COVID-19 variants are taking their toll on the United States as medical researchers eye the next generation of protection.

BA.4 and BA.5 are said to spread more easily and evade prior immunity.

"I've been telling folks that it feels a little bit like we're in a no man's land of COVID," said Dr. Megan Ranney, Brown University's associate dean of public health.

Hospitalizations and deaths are rising, but not yet to the peaks we've seen in past surges. Health officials say it's because of COVID-19 vaccines. The next era of protection could come in the form of a pill or spray.

"Those are in pre-human trials or in very small phase one human trials," said Dr. Ranney.

Both will need to go through more rigorous, larger scale testing before even trying to get FDA authorization.

But some medical researchers say delivering vaccines via tablets or nasal sprays would deploy more immune defenders to the lining of the mouth, nose and throat, making the virus less able to replicate. That could slow the development of new coronavirus variants and finally bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control.

However, there are hurdles.

"We have a ways to go still. In a best-case scenario, months, but if we don't see more money coming, it could be much longer than that," explained Dr. Ranney.

For now, health officials and experts continue to urge vaccination and boosters for those eligible.

There's also now a fourth coronavirus vaccine available in the U.S. On Tuesday, the CDC signed off on Novavax's protein-based COVID-19 vaccine as a two-dose primary series in adults.

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