One year ago, the word pandemic was synonymous with quarantine and lockdown. Now, thanks to science, the first word I think of when I hear pandemic is vaccine. The first vaccines to reach the general public from Pfizer and Moderna truly changed the tide of the pandemic in the U.S.—they gave us hope and a sense of something approaching normal.
Then the single dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson arrived and hope increased exponentially.
Now we have a potential fourth vaccine that could be the thing that finally brings the pandemic to a halt on a global scale.
Novavax Trial Results Released
Novavax has been on everyone’s radar for a while. Earlier this year, Dr. Gregory Glenn, president of Research and Development at Novavax, discussed the vaccine’s efficacy in a small trial, including how it would act against the variants in an interview with the Washington Post. On June 14, Novavax revealed the official and long-awaited U.S. trial results of its protein-based vaccine. The results did not disappoint.
The Novavax vaccine demonstrated 90 percent overall efficacy in clinical trials. According to Jennifer Beam Dowd, PhD, that means that for every ten infections in the placebo group, there was only one infection in the group that had received the vaccine.
Incredibly, the Novavax vaccine also demonstrated 100 percent protection against moderate and severe disease in its Phase 3 trial. In other words, no person who received the Novavax vaccine required hospitalization or died from COVID.
In high-risk populations, defined as those over the age of 65, those who have underlying conditions, or those with frequent COVID exposures, Novavax showed an efficacy of 91 percent.
The incredible results put Novavax in league with the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. According to John Moore, an immunologist at Weill Cornell University who participated in the Novavax trial, “It is comparable in potency, efficacy to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.”
Novavax Worked Against The Variants
As the pandemic has evolved, so has the virus behind the pandemic. COVID has evolved beyond the original virus that was first identified in China. Now, there are variants—the Alpha variant, first identified in the U.K., and the Delta variant, first identified in India, among others.
The question on everyone’s mind is whether the vaccines work against the variants. Both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine were developed before the variants started circulating widely. (Subsequent studies have found that both vaccines do protect against variants.)
Novavax answered that question definitively. The vaccine demonstrated a 93 percent efficacy against “predominantly circulating Variants of Concern and Variants of Interest.” Against other variants—those not deemed variants of concern—the efficacy was even more impressive. The Novavax vaccine demonstrated 100 percent efficacy against those variants.
When it comes to the very transmissible Delta variant, (recently named a variant of concern in the U.S.) the results aren’t clear. The Delta variant wasn’t widely circulating during the Novavax clinical trial. However, Glenn appears to be confident that the vaccine will work against this new troubling variant. In a statement, Glenn wrote, “These data show consistent, high levels of efficacy and reaffirm the ability of the vaccine to prevent COVID-19 amid ongoing genetic evolution of the virus.”
A Few Advantages of Novavax Vaccine
The Novavax vaccine is a two dose vaccine, with the doses given 21 days apart, similar to Pfizer’s vaccine. Unlike Pfizer’s vaccine, however, the Novavax vaccine does not require storage. The vaccine can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures—making storage, transportation, distribution, and other logistics easier.
For those who are hesitant about the mRNA vaccines, Novavax also offers another option. It uses existing technology that has been used in other vaccines. Novavax’s vaccine uses a recombinant protein. According to Dowd, rather than “coax your body into making the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it delivers it already pre-made (by moth cells!) and combined with a plant-based adjuvant that boosts your immune response.”
When it comes to side effects, the Novavax vaccine seems to also have a slight advantage over other vaccines. In his Washington Post Live interview, Glenn highlighted the safety profile of the vaccine. He said the side effects were “much more muted” compared to other vaccines. Volunteers reported fatigue and headache, among other minor symptoms.
Novavax Won’t Be Available Just Yet
Unfortunately the Novavax vaccine will not be available right away. The company is reportedly planning to apply for U.S. authorization after it develops a quality control test. In the meantime, the company plans to produce 100 million doses a month by the end of September and 150 million a month by the end of the year.
If we look only at the U.S., there doesn’t seem to be a need for a fourth vaccine. In many parts of the U.S., it seems as if the pandemic is winding down. Case numbers are sharply falling. Deaths are declining. People are emerging for the first time in more than a year. We’re fortunate to have enough vaccines to vaccinate our eligible population.
But the situation in the U.S. is not reflective of the rest of the world, where the virus is raging. The Novavax might be the vaccine that reaches those corners of the world that have not been as fortunate as the U.S.
The Novavax vaccine may even prove useful in the U.S. in the future. It may serve as an effective booster for those already vaccinated.
We’ve known for a long time that the best way to end this pandemic is through vaccines. Science gave us those vaccines. It’s still giving us those vaccines. The more the better to finally put this pandemic in the past.