China launches an inhalable COVID-19 vaccine in an apparent world first

Beijing residents waiting for coronavirus testing
Residents of Beijing wait to get their routine coronavirus throat swabs at a testing site Tuesday.
(Andy Wong / Associated Press)

China’s biggest city, Shanghai, started administering an inhalable COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday in what appears to be a world first.

The vaccine, a mist sucked in through the mouth, is being offered for free as a booster dose for previously vaccinated individuals, according to an announcement posted on an official city social media account.

Needle-free vaccines may persuade people who don’t like getting a shot to get vaccinated, as well as help expand vaccination in poor countries because they are easier to administer.


China wants more people to get booster shots before it relaxes strict pandemic restrictions that are holding back the economy and increasingly out of sync with the rest of the world. As of mid-October, 90% of Chinese were fully vaccinated and 57% had received a booster shot.

A video posted by an online Chinese state media outlet showed people at a community health center sticking the short nozzle of a translucent white cup into their mouths. Accompanying text said that, after slowly inhaling, one man held his breath for five seconds, with the entire procedure completed in 20 seconds.

“It was like drinking a cup of milk tea,” one Shanghai resident said in the video. “When I breathed it in, it tasted a bit sweet.”

Reports from thousands of people who’ve had COVID-19 suggest that the most common symptoms vary according to their vaccination status.

Oct. 25, 2022

The effectiveness of non-injected vaccines has not been fully explored. Chinese regulators approved the inhalable one in September, but only as a booster shot after studies showed it triggered an immune system response in people who had previously received two shots of a different Chinese vaccine.

A vaccine administered orally could fend off the coronavirus before it reaches the rest of the respiratory system, though that would depend in part on the size of the vaccine’s droplets, one expert said.

Larger droplets would boost defenses in parts of the mouth and throat, while smaller ones would travel farther into the body, said Dr. Vineeta Bal, an immunologist in India.


Chinese regulators approved the vaccine for use as a booster in September. It was developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical company CanSino Biologics as an aerosol version of the company’s one-shot adenovirus vaccine, which uses a relatively harmless cold virus.

For the record:

4:18 a.m. Oct. 26, 2022A previous version of this story stated that the inhalable vaccine has completed clinical trials in several countries. It has received the green light for clinical trials in Malaysia, according to a media report.

The traditional one-shot vaccine has been approved for use in 10 markets, including China, Hungary, Pakistan, Malaysia, Argentina and Mexico. The inhaled version has received a go-ahead for clinical trials in Malaysia, a Malaysian media report said last month.

After a pandemic-induced lull, influenza is being detected at increased levels for this time of year in Southern California.

Oct. 24, 2022

Regulators in India have approved a nasal vaccine, another needle-free approach, but it has yet to be rolled out. The vaccine, developed in the U.S. and licensed to Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech, is squirted in the nose.

About a dozen nasal vaccines are being tested globally, according to the World Health Organization.

China has relied on domestically developed vaccines, primarily two inactivated vaccines that have proved effective in preventing death and serious disease but less effective than the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in stopping the spread of the disease.

Chinese authorities also have not mandated vaccination; entering an office building or other public places requires a negative COVID-19 test, not proof of vaccination. And the country’s strict “zero-COVID” approach means that only a small proportion of the population has been infected and built immunity that way, compared with other places.


As a result, it’s unclear how widely the coronavirus would spread if restrictions were lifted. The ruling Communist Party has so far shown no sign of easing its zero-tolerance policy, moving quickly to restrict travel and impose lockdowns when even just a few cases are discovered.

Authorities on Wednesday ordered the lockdown of 900,000 people in Wuhan, the city where the virus was first detected in late 2019, for at least five days. In remote Qinghai province, the urban districts of Xining city have been locked down since Friday.

In Beijing, Universal Studios said it would close its hotels and attractions “to comply with pandemic prevention and control.” The capital city of more than 21 million people reported 19 new cases in the latest 24-hour period.