NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Before COVID-19 even reached Connecticut, some scientists at Yale were busy making it their focus. As if creating a COVID rapid test wasn’t enough, they’re now setting out to make a nasal vaccine that prevents the virus from getting into the body.

Immunobiologist Akiko Iwasaki works with some of her researchers in a Yale laboratory. This is where some major breakthroughs have been developed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One turning point was when new COVID-19 variants threatened the effectiveness of vaccines.

“So we saw the opportunity and the need to generate a new kind of vaccine. That’s when we started thinking about mucosal responses particularly in the nose and in the throat because that’s where we inhale the virus and the virus replicates first,” Iwasaki said.

Iwasaki said an over-the-counter nasal spray vaccine or booster could change the acceptance of COVID vaccines, helping certain individuals.

“People who are perhaps afraid of the needle, people who are afraid of getting the new vaccine, this nasal spray is very simple, it’s just a recombinant spike protein.”

Unlike COVID-19 vaccines that go into arms, the nasal vaccine could prevent COVID-19 from infecting people, rather than protecting them after they get the virus, stopping the virus where it is ingested.

“You really need to target the site where you need the protection most,” Iwasaki said.

Her team’s research goes beyond the nasal vaccine. They have started a new center aimed at infection and immunity.

“One of the things we are focusing on is long COVID,” Iwasaki said. “Just unable to go back to work because of the debilitating symptoms they’re suffering from.”

She says with COVID in our lives for the foreseeable future, this is an important issue.

The center will be focusing on the immune responses in these people and see if there are any medicines or therapies that can be provided to alleviate these symptoms.

Iwasaki’s team of investigators could create new therapies or find existing drugs that work on long COVID.