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Novavax: Everything you need to know about the new COVID-19 vaccine

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What is happening

The CDC has recommended a new COVID-19 vaccine: Novavax.

why is it important

Novavax is the first protein-based vaccine for COVID-19 available in the United States, although protein-based vaccines have been around for decades.

What this means for you

If you haven’t had a COVID-19 vaccine yet, you can get Novavax.

Novavax, the fourth COVID-19 vaccine available in the United States, will soon be an option for adults who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19. About 10% of people aged 18 and over have not received any doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Novavax as the primary series vaccine on Tuesday, following an endorsement of a group of scientific advisors who provide advice to the CDC. It was the last hurdle for Novavax, and the vaccine will be available in pharmacies across the United States in the coming weeks.

Because it is only authorized as a primary series and not as a booster, the new vaccine cannot yet be used as a booster in people who have already been vaccinated. And while Novavax’s initial impact may be limited because of this, its availability will give those waiting for a protein-based or more “traditional” vaccine another option. According to the CDC, types of vaccines like Novavax have been around for more than 30 years and are used against shingles, flu and more.

More than two years into the pandemic, the number of fully vaccinated people hasn’t changed much in recent weeks, and those who are hesitant about vaccination appear to be firm in their position, according to a Kaiser Family poll. Foundation. The percentage of American adults who responded to the survey and who said they would “definitely not” receive a COVID-19 vaccine ranged from 15% in December 2020 to 17% in April 2022.

Besides Novavax, there are three other COVID-19 vaccines licensed or recommended on the market in the United States, and two of them are still widely recommended for adults. (The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is still licensed in the United States, but its use has been limit due to a rare but serious risk of blood clots. That leaves vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna as the other two options currently recommended for adults.)

“It’s good to have a vaccine on board like Novavax because it’s another option for those who might have contraindications to other vaccine platforms,” ​​said Ross Kedl, professor of immunology and microbiology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, in an email. . “Some have allergic reactions or rarer issues like blood clots.”

Novavax has been a long time coming. The company had a contract with the federal government under Operation Warp Speed, but encountered manufacturing issues that hampered rapid emergency use clearance. Its COVID vaccine is already available in other countries, including Canada and Australia, under the name Nuvaxovid.

Here’s everything we know.

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When can I get the Novavax vaccine?

The Novavax rollout is a little different from previous booster or vaccine rollouts, which made vaccines available to people almost immediately after final approval by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. (In the case of Novavax, there was no “pre-ordering” of vaccine doses.)

Based on the CDC’s planning document for Novavax, we can expect to see doses of Novavax in U.S. pharmacies as early as late July or the first week of August, said Kristen Nichols, pharmacist and senior management consultant for content at Wolters Kluwer, in an email. But the timing may also depend on where you live.

“We cannot determine exactly when doses will be available, especially in more rural areas where shipping may take longer to reach all health centers,” Nichols said.

To check when and where Novavax is available near you, you can use the COVID-19 vaccine finder to select your preferred vaccine type.

Who can get Novavax?

Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine is for adults who have not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine. It is licensed as a two-dose primary series for adults 18 years and older, with each dose usually given three weeks apart.

Because it is licensed as a primary series, people who have already been vaccinated cannot get it as an additional or booster vaccine at this time. But since the FDA cleared a mix and match approach with other COVID-19 vaccines in the past, Novavax’s authorization may be extended to more people in the future.

As with any other drug or vaccine, people allergic to any ingredient in Novavax should not take it, Nichols says.

Although the main Novavax series is the only one currently authorized, it is possible that Novavax will have a new omicron-specific booster ready this fall or winter. After the FDA announced its plans for the fall vaccine deployment, Novavax said it is accelerating work on an omicron-specific vaccine that targets the super contagious BA.5. But like the other future new vaccine, the FDA will have to license it separately.

What is Novavax? How is it different?

Novavax is a COVID-19 vaccine that uses more traditional protein-based technology, unlike other vaccines currently available in the United States: Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna use mRNA technology, and Johnson & Johnson is a viral vector.

In the Novavax vaccine, a protein purified from the virus is mixed with what’s called an adjuvant — additives that “wake up the immune response and tell it to take this target seriously,” Kedl said.

Dr. Glenn Wortmann, an infectious disease specialist at MedStar Health, said the general approach for most vaccines is to use a protein base.

“Specifically, Novavax is very similar to the hepatitis B vaccine” that most of us receive as children, Wortmann said. Some flu, shingles, and other disease vaccines use similar technology.

While it offers another option, however, the jury may be out on whether Novavax offers superior immunity to vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.

“From an immunological standpoint, in my view, it doesn’t really add much on its own that isn’t already handled well by mRNA vaccines,” Kedl said.

However, it is easier to store and ship than mRNA vaccines, he said. This can be an advantage when vaccinating harder to reach communities where it can be difficult to keep finicky vaccines cool in the fridge. But Novavax has serious manufacturing drawbacks, Kedl said, because it’s not cheap for the company to produce and purify the proteins.

“mRNA vaccines skip this step because they turn each individual into their own vaccine maker,” he said. mRNA vaccines work by teaching our cells to make the protein themselves that will trigger an immune response.

For this reason, mRNA vaccines are easier to adjust than Novavax when a new variant emerges, Kedl said.

“The mRNA platform is much more modifiable than what Novavax does,” he said. “Every time a new vaccine variant needs to be made, Novavax is going to have to do a lot of lab work to figure out what changes will still make it possible to make and purify a good protein in massive quantities.”

Novavax: Everything you need to know about the new COVID-19 vaccine

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How effective is Novavax?

Published results of a trial found Novavax to be over 90% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 and 100% effective against severe illness and death. Importantly, this trial was conducted before the omicron or delta variants were widely released. The delta and omicron variants – including the omicron BA.5 subvariant – are more contagious and evade some immunity to vaccines and previous infections.

Actual data comparing the effectiveness of Novavax to other vaccines does not yet exist. According to the World Health Organization, “it is not possible to compare vaccines head to head due to the different approaches taken in the design of the respective studies”.

What are the side effects of Novavax?

As with other vaccines, side effects after receiving the Novavax vaccine are usually mild, common, and occur within seven days of injection, according to the CDC. Examples are fatigue, fever, chills and headaches, which disappear within a few days. These are signs that your immune system is reacting and mounting a defense.

Myocarditis and pericarditis (inflammation of the heart) are rare side effects. Six out of approximately 40,000 vaccinees developed it in a clinical trial with Novavax, compared to one in the placebo group.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.


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