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Oral Administration of Universal Bacterium-Vectored Nucleocapsid-Expressing COVID-19 Vaccine is Efficacious in Hamsters


Oral delivery of an inexpensive COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) vaccine could dramatically improve immunization rates, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Previously, we described a potential universal COVID-19 vaccine, rLVS ΔcapB/MN, comprising a replicating bacterial vector, LVS (live vaccine strain) ΔcapB, expressing the highly conserved SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) membrane and nucleocapsid (N) proteins, which, when administered intradermally or intranasally, protects hamsters from severe COVID-19-like disease after high-dose SARS-CoV-2 respiratory challenge. Here, we show that oral administration of the vaccine also protects against high-dose SARS-CoV-2 respiratory challenge; its protection is comparable to that of intradermal, intranasal, or subcutaneous administration. Hamsters were protected against severe weight loss and lung pathology and had reduced oropharyngeal and lung virus titers. Protection against weight loss and histopathology by the vaccine, which in mice induces splenic and lung cell interferon gamma in response to N protein stimulation, was correlated in hamsters with pre-challenge serum anti-N TH1-biased IgG (IgG2/3). Thus, rLVS ΔcapB/MN has potential as an oral universal COVID-19 vaccine. IMPORTANCE The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage into its fourth year worldwide. To protect the world's population most effectively from severe disease, hospitalization, and death, a vaccine is needed that is resistant to rapidly emerging viral variants of the causative agent SARS-CoV-2, inexpensive to manufacture, store, and transport, and easy to administer. Ideally, such a vaccine would be capable of oral administration, especially in resource-poor countries of the world where there are shortages of needles, syringes and trained personnel to administer injectable vaccines. Here, we show that oral administration of a bacterium-vectored vaccine meeting all these criteria protects naturally susceptible Syrian hamsters from severe COVID-19-like disease, including severe weight loss and lung pathology, after high-dose SARS-CoV-2 respiratory challenge. As the vaccine is based upon inducing immunity to highly conserved SARS-CoV-2 membrane and nucleocapsid proteins, as opposed to the rapidly mutating Spike protein, it should remain resistant to newly emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants.

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