In the vaccine race, US company Novavax is late. But the fight against COVID-19 is more like a marathon than a sprint, which is why the immune system can play an important role in the global vaccination campaign. The technology used is known, the vaccine is effective, easy to transport and store. More importantly, large quantities can be produced quickly.
How effective is the new vaccine?
With an overall efficacy of 90.4%, the NVX-CoV2373 vaccine is roughly equivalent to the Pfizer-Biontech and Moderna vaccines, according to the company. Specifically, there were 90% fewer cases overall in the vaccinated group than in the unvaccinated group. Most importantly, the vaccine achieved 100% protection against moderate and severe cases.
In the placebo group, there were 63 cases of COVID-19, ten with moderate growth and four severe. In the vaccinated group, there were only 14 cases in total, but all had a slight development of covid-19. In total, 29,960 participants in 119 locations across the United States and Mexico took part in the Phase III test.
What are the typical reactions to a new vaccine?
According to the US company, the vaccine was generally well tolerated. Only usual vaccination reactions occurred, such as temporary injection site pain, headache, muscle aches and fatigue.
Does the vaccine also work against variants?
During testing, the alpha variant (B.1.1.7), initially detected in the UK, had already spread to the US and Mexico, where phase 3 was implemented. Therefore, the Novavax vaccine protects against this mutation.
However, in the case of the beta variant (B.1.351), which was first discovered in South Africa, the efficacy was significantly lower (49%), as shown by a study in South Africa. Other variants such as gamma (discovered in Manaus) or Delta (discovered in India).
How is Novavax different from others?
Unlike pre-approved vaccines, Novavax is neither an mRNA vaccine (such as the Pfizer-Bionteche Moderna vaccine) nor a vector vaccine (such as the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines).
The new vaccine is different: it consists of protein fragments of the virus, specifically those that make up the so-called spike protein, which is a type of molecular portal that the Corona virus uses to enter cells.
The vaccine works according to the principle of vaccination against hepatitis B or tetanus: the immune system reacts to the vaccine proteins applied to the body.
The immune system responds to the vaccine proteins, but the immune reaction is much faster because the body does not have to produce spike proteins first, unlike other vaccines. But Novavax also requires two doses.
According to Carlos Alberto Guzman, Head of the Department of Vaccines and Applied Microbiology at the Helmholtz Center in Germany, before the advent of mRNA technology, protein-based vaccines were considered a particularly futuristic and mature technology.
“Protein-based vaccines are well known, generally better tolerated, and there’s not much question. One downside is that protein-based vaccines take longer to develop than vector or mRNA vaccines,” he says.
Double protection against corona virus and flu
The vaccine is designed, in the future, to simultaneously protect against the new coronavirus and influenza virus, which causes influenza. In general, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German agency for disease prevention and control, all current vaccines can be combined and administered simultaneously. The possibility of multiple vaccinations that overload the immune system is excluded. However, it is questionable whether the combination has a negative effect on efficacy.
“The latest preliminary version of the Novavax vaccine study shows significant progress. It is the first evidence that the covid-19 vaccine can be administered concurrently with the seasonal influenza vaccine in two different arms without compromising its efficacy. This would greatly simplify administrative logistics in the future flu season,” he says. Guzman.
This could turn out to be a smart strategy: If SARS-CoV-2 develops into a seasonal pathogen in the medium term, causing a type of cold, seasonal booster vaccines similar to those of influenza will likely be needed. Therefore, if a suitable vaccine is available, a person can be vaccinated with both immediately.
When is the Novavax vaccine approved?
If study results remain as promising as they appear, Novavax plans to submit the vaccine for approval in the United States and Europe, among other countries, by the end of September. A rapid review process has been underway in the EU since February of this year.
What role can a vaccine play in the global immunization campaign?
The United States government provided strong financial support for the development of the Novavax vaccine. But there are now enough vaccines available in the United States. This opens up the possibility that Novavax can be used elsewhere. After all, there is still a huge global demand.
At the recent G7 summit in England, heads of state and government announced their intention to distribute a total of 2.3 billion doses of vaccines to the poorest countries. Protein-based vaccines are easier to transport and store (up to 8 °C) than mRNA vaccines. This may be particularly useful for vaccination campaigns in areas with poor infrastructure.
According to the company, 100 million doses of vaccines could be produced per month initially. This means that Novavax could play a crucial role in vaccination campaigns in the poorest countries.