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April 14, 2021

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COVID vaccines: Will Novavax be next?

A welcome sign as we continue to fight this pandemic

By Christian Stang
Student Pharmacist with Karen Kier
Pharmacist on behalf of ONU HealthWise

As we move into the early months of spring 2021, things look quite different than they had a year ago. 

The masking and social distancing has stuck around (and rightfully so), but we are moving forward with the goal of regaining that sense of normalcy that may mean something different for each one of us.

In the past few months, we have entered a new stage of this ever-changing and unprecedented pandemic with the introduction of vaccines authorized for emergency use.

We first saw Pfizer’s vaccine introduced followed shortly by Moderna. A few weeks ago Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) was the third vaccine to receive emergency use authorization.

Now with three vaccines authorized for use, it makes you wonder which one will come next. Both AstraZeneca and Novavax are finishing up clinical trials and compiling data to present to the Food and Drug Administration.

There are other biologic and pharmaceutical companies working diligently to get products to market to meet the demands of those worldwide. While trials are still ongoing, Novavax is one of the next likely candidates to be considered for emergency use authorization and, like the other vaccines, the early indications are very promising. 

What we know about Novavax
So what do we know about the Novavax vaccine right now? From a functional standpoint, it takes advantage of the same mechanism that both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines utilize. 

We know that they utilize mRNA as a genetic blueprint for the body to produce a viral spike protein and subsequent antibodies that are useful in the case of virus exposure. In other words, they develop antibodies that attack if the SARS-CoV-2 virus invades the body.

Instead of providing the genetic instructions to produce the spike protein, the Novavax vaccine offers the spike protein in the vaccine itself, having already been synthesized in the lab. This is an interesting concept because the vaccine is essentially the spike protein and ready to teach the body to fight.

In terms of schedule, the Novavax vaccine is most similar to Moderna’s product in that it is two doses 28 days apart. Pertaining to storage, it is similar to the newly-authorized Johnson and Johnson vaccine as it can be stored and shipped at normal refrigeration temperatures, as opposed to Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines frozen status. 

Refrigeration is a preferred method of storage as it makes distribution more efficient and allows doses to be stored in a conventional way, similar to what is already seen in pharmacies, physicians’ offices, and health departments.

Considering these potential advantages, one might wonder how well does the vaccine work compared to the current vaccines already available to the public.

What do we know about the studies so far? Most of the studies to date have been conducted in the United Kingdom with one Phase 3 clinical trial ongoing in the United States.

Novavax effectiveness
The United States trial has enrolled 30,000 patients to test the Novavax vaccine. From previous trials in the United Kingdom, Novavax issued a statement on March 11 that its vaccine showed overall efficacy at 89.7%. 

While it proved to be 96% effective in preventing mild, moderate, and severe disease, it demonstrated 86% efficacy against the emerging B.1.1.7 variant or mutated strain that has shown some resistance to other vaccines. 

This compares to Pfizer’s 95% effectiveness, Moderna’s 94% effectiveness, and the single-dose Johnson and Johnson’s at 66% effectiveness in preventing a COVID infection. 

While studies in the US are ongoing, there have been no new or unusual adverse effects reported that have not already been reported with the other COVID-19 vaccines.

It will take some more data before the Novavax vaccine receives emergency use authorization, but consideration is underway as some expect the vaccine to be available as early as May. 

The fact that it can provide protection similar to the two-dose mRNA vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna is a good sign while being logistically simpler to store. These features make it an ideal candidate for mass production.  

Is this a game-changer?
Is it a game-changer? Probably not, but it is in the same ballpark as the other vaccines that have received authorization and has some significant advantages in storage and handling. 

What this really shows is that the companies producing the vaccines are watching each other to consider ways to improve their own product. The potential for competition in the COVID-19 vaccine market exists not only for current doses but also for future doses as we learn more about how often this vaccine will need to be given. The competition between these vaccine manufacturers is ensuring constant quality improvement and production of the best products available.

If there is one thing we have learned through this pandemic, it is that there is no magic bullet. It may be a few years before we see 100% elimination of the virus as well as any mutated strains. With that said, these vaccinations truly give us the best chance to return to normal, maybe not right away, but soon. 

So, the emergence of new COVID-19 vaccines, like the one from Novavax, is a welcome sign as we continue to fight this pandemic.   

ONU HealthWise is offering COVID-19 vaccine clinics in Ada every Friday in April and May. 

Please visit these websites: www.onuhealthwisepharmacy.com or https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/covid-19/covid-19-vaccinatio....