LISBON, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- Scientists at Portugal's Polytechnic Institute of Porto (IPP) are developing an oral COVID-19 vaccine that can be ingested with liquids, such as yogurt or fruit juice.
In an interview with Xinhua, the project's coordinator, Ruben Fernandes, explained that the immunizing agent is made from plants and probiotics with genetically modified microorganisms that are beneficial to health.
Probiotics are natural immunity boosters, but in the case of this vaccine they are "induced to produce a new substance that helps immunize against the SARS-CoV-2 virus."
"This technology is not intended to replace the current ones. Rather, our intention is to boost the action of the immune system so that the currently used vaccines work more efficiently," he told Xinhua.
Fernandes pointed out that the idea of introducing vaccines in food is already used, for example, in potatoes against infectious diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria, norovirus, and hepatitis B.
"In addition to potatoes, vaccines against hepatitis B were also produced in rice and bananas. Edible vaccines against the first virus of the SARS family (which causes the severe acute respiratory syndrome) have already been produced in tomatoes," he said.
So far, the researchers have tested the concept on certain plants and probiotics containing bacteria, reaching the conclusion that this genetic modification technology works.
"The next step is to choose the fruit plants to be modified, in addition to choosing the best probiotics (bacteria) in vitro, and then testing them on animals," Fernandes said.
The researchers expect the edible vaccine to be available to the broad public in the next six months to a year, depending on the funding they can obtain from the food industry.
The researchers' goal is to produce a vaccine that can be offered to the population at a low price and in a sustainable way.
According to Fernandes, there are several ethical, economic and therapeutic advantages in popularizing a form of immunization that is easier to understand and adhere to.
"These are vaccines with a much lower production cost," Fernandes said, noting that this will make them "much more accessible to poor countries."
"Finally, many people are still afraid of conventional vaccines, but they like to drink their yogurt with probiotics to stimulate immunity," he said.