Seeking A Fentanyl Vaccine Breakthrough

Written by: Nechama Reis
Last Updated: Jun 07, 2023

You may have noticed that vaccines have been a focal topic of conversation over the last few years This was largely spearheaded by all the talk and hype surrounding the groundbreaking Covid-19 vaccine [1]. But what if there was a vaccine solution to another ongoing pandemic in this country, that too often gets overlooked? What if we figured out a way to vaccinate against drug and alcohol addiction? This idea has led many researchers to seek a first fentanyl vaccine breakthrough.

Researchers at the University of Washington, in partnership with Columbia University in New York City, are determined to find out if they can make a drug addiction vaccine a reality. Watch a news clip of their ongoing efforts here:

The Need for a Fentanyl Vaccine Breakthrough

Substance use disorder is a rising concern in America, with 8.1 million Americans suffering from the disease. Opioids are currently the most abused class of drugs, making up 24.7% of those with substance use disorders. A huge portion of that is Fentanyl addiction, currently the number one killer in the US of adults aged 18 to 45. While addiction numbers keep rising, scientists search for answers to the growing opioid epidemic, and either a specific fentanyl vaccine or a more generic opioid vaccine would be a huge game changer.

NIH HEAL Initiative

The NIH HEAL [2] (Heal End Addiction Long Term) initiative has worked on a vaccine to treat opioid use disorder.  A vaccine would provide another solution for those with the disease.  The advantages of a vaccine over medication include needing less medical supervision and zero abuse potential disorders.

How Would a Vaccine for Fentanyl Addiction Work?

Vaccines prevent a foreign substance or antigen from reaching the spinal cord or brain where its effect occurs. For opioid molecules to pass through the brain, they first must pass the blood-brain barrier. Since opioid molecules are so small, they usually can pass through this wall to the brain. Any opioid vaccine would teach the body to develop antibodies against the target opioid (specifically, a vaccine for fentanyl would be an exclusively anti-fentanyl vaccine). Then, when the fentanyl enters the body, the antibodies already present would attach themselves to the fentanyl molecules. This would make them too large to pass through the barrier to the brain.

With the fentanyl unable to reach the brain, there is no opportunity for a fentanyl high, leaving no incentive to use the drug further.

When Will a Fentanyl Vaccine Be Available?

Under the HEAL initiative, Pravetoni and Comer are running the first opioid vaccine trial on humans. They have begun the first testing stage to determine:

  • The vaccine’s safety
  • Whether participants develop antibodies
  • Whether the vaccine produces a decrease in the effects of opioids
  • How long any effects resulting from the vaccine can last

It will take a while before the vaccine is available on the market as an effective treatment.

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Waiting For A Fentanyl Vaccine Breakthrough

Those suffering from substance use disorder face the challenge of trying to recover from a gripping addiction. Many have gone through treatment multiple times in their life and are searching for a treatment that lasts. A fentanyl shot could be the permanent help they have been waiting for. It is a solution that could work and would allow them to move on from a life of addiction.
Until then, the best option for beating addiction remains through drug and alcohol detox and rehab. Here at Avenues Recovery, we are rooting hard for a significant fentanyl vaccine breakthrough.

Until then, however, we are committed to offering the very best in drug and alcohol detox and rehab available. Addiction recovery is possible, and we will do everything in our ability to help you or your loved one succeed, and live the sober life that you deserve.




Nechama is a content writer who enjoys combining research with creative writing. She has graduated from Excelsior College with a BS in Psychology. She is an avid reader with a passion for writing professionally and personally on topics of mental health and psychology.

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