What You Should Know About Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine:

By Dr. Nancy Yoon, Chief Medical Officer at Springfield-Greene County Health

Vaccines represent one of the greatest success stories in public health, as we’ve talked about before on Healthy Ozarks. Vaccines cause the body’s immune system to create antibodies to fight off infection from bacteria, viruses and other organisms that can cause disease. Through vaccines, we have eradicated or eliminated many diseases globally, and have reduced illness and saved millions of lives. Most recently, vaccines were created to prevent severe illness due to COVID-19.

Since December 2020, there have been safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines available. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use mRNA technology, which had not previously been used in commercially available vaccines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a viral vector, which is also used in other types of vaccines.

In the U.S., there is now a fourth option for the COVID-19 vaccine for people who have not received their primary series. On July 19, 2022, the CDC approved the “Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, Adjuvanted” for emergency use authorization for adults 18 years and older. It is a two-dose, protein-based COVID-19 vaccine that is currently being used in more than 40 countries and has also been authorized by the European Union and the World Health Organization. The U.S. has secured 3.2 million doses of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, and it will be available in the coming weeks.

Because of its “traditional” technology, the Novavax Vaccine may be familiar to those of you who received childhood immunizations, like the hepatitis B vaccine. However, you may still have questions about what this new vaccine is, why the time is now to get vaccinated, and what “traditional” technology even means.

We’re here to help answer a few of those questions for you.

Why should I get vaccinated now?

The vaccine is a safe way to protect yourself against COVID-19 — which is still spreading rapidly in our community. Vaccines teach your body how to recognize and fight off infections. If you become infected, you can pass on the infection to people around you. COVID-19 infection can also lead to long term symptoms and effects on the body or may even be life-threatening. People who have been vaccinated tend to have milder infections and have a greatly reduced risk of requiring hospitalization.

How is the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine different than the other COVID-19 vaccines?

The Novavax COVID-19 subunit vaccine uses small pieces of the virus (the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein). This is an older, more “traditional” type of vaccine technology that has been used for other diseases, including hepatitis B, human papillomavirus (HPV), and the tetanus toxoid and diphtheria toxoid vaccines, which are part of the childhood vaccines series. The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine does not contain any mRNA, which is the main component of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

Scientists use moth cells to create many copies of the COVID-19 spike proteins. These are extracted and purified, and an adjuvant, a substance that enhances the body’s immune response, is also added. The Matrix-M adjuvant is based on a saponin extracted from the soapbark tree. Saponins encourage immune cells to activate, which leads to a stronger immune response. When the spike proteins and adjuvant are injected into our body, it causes our body to make antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. This teaches your body how to recognize the virus and attack it when needed.

Is the Novavax vaccine safe and effective?

Like all the other COVID-19 vaccines, the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine has been studied in tens of thousands of patients in clinical trials, and monitoring and research is continuing. It has been proven to be safe and effective, with the benefits of the vaccine outweighing the potential risks. In the phase 3 clinical trials, it was shown to be 90% effective in preventing mild, moderate, or severe COVID-19 for ages 18 and up, and 100% effective against severe illness and death. The initial clinical trials were conducted when the alpha and beta variants were circulating in the U.S., before delta and omicron became the dominant variants.

In ongoing trials, Novavax has reported a broad immune response against all COVID-19 variants, including the BA.5 Omicron subvariant. Continued research is being done on the efficacy of the vaccine with the current variants, as well as if a booster dose will be recommended in the future. Exactly how long protection from the vaccine lasts is unknown, and depends on a person’s underlying medical conditions, how well their body forms an immune response to the vaccine, and the types of virus variants circulating.

What are some side effects of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine?

The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine does not contain any live or inactivated virus and does not contain any mRNA. It cannot cause COVID-19 infection.

The most commonly reported side effects by vaccine recipients included pain/tenderness, redness and swelling at the injection site, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, joint pain, nausea/vomiting, fever and chills. These symptoms are common for all vaccines, and they typically go away within a few days.

There were six cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) from a clinical trial of about 30,000 people, primarily among young men. The cases of myocarditis in the clinical trial were treatable, and all six individuals recovered well. The risk of developing myocarditis from COVID-19 infection remains higher than the risk of developing it from a COVID-19 vaccine, including Novavax.

Like all vaccines, there is a small chance that the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine could cause a severe allergic reaction. This could happen usually within a few minutes to one hour after getting a dose of the vaccine. For this reason, your vaccination provider may ask you to stay for monitoring for a short period after vaccination. People who have had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, or any ingredient of the vaccine should not receive it.

Where can I get the vaccine?

While the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine is not currently available in Greene County and is awaiting state approval as of July 25, the Health Department is hopeful to receive the vaccine and be able to administer it to the public as soon as possible.

If you’re looking to get vaccinated in the meantime, there are vaccination appointments available Monday-Friday at Westside Public Health Center (660 S. Scenic Ave.) from 1–4:30 p.m. To schedule, visit vaccine417.com or call the COVID-19 Call Center at 417–874–1211.

Individuals who receive a primary (first or second) dose or first booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a Health Department clinic will receive a $50 gift card while supplies last. Second booster doses are available for immunocompromised individuals 12 and up or anyone age 50 and over at least four months after a first booster dose. Gift card incentives are not available for a second booster dose.

Where can I go to find more information?

If you have more questions about any of the COVID-19 vaccines, talk to your healthcare provider or visit our website: vaccine417.com

Additional links: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/novavax.html

World Health Organization “Vaccines Explained”:

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/covid-19-vaccines/explainers

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Healthy Ozarks

Healthy Ozarks

The official Springfield-Greene County Health Department blog