Novavax vaccine performs well—including against variants

The COVID-19 news world saw a return of Monday-morning vaccine results this week. Novavax, a small biotech company based in Maryland, announced that its vaccine demonstrated 90% overall efficacy and 100% protection against moderate and severe COVID-19 disease.

These results come from a trial conducted in the U.S. and Mexico between January and April this year, at a time when the Alpha (or B.1.1.7) variant was becoming dominant here. Among almost 30,000 trial participants, 77 cases were observed: 63 in the placebo group and 14 in the vaccine group, for an efficacy of 90.4%. All of the moderate and severe cases (ten moderate, four severe) were observed in the placebo group.

Novavax even sequenced samples from 54 out of the 77 cases. The majority of those sequenced cases were variants of concern or variants of interest; Novavax’s vaccine demonstrated 93.2% efficacy against variants of concern/interest and 100% efficacy against non-concerning variants. This finding aligns with other vaccine studies suggesting that the COVID-19 vaccines developed on older versions of the virus still work well against variants, especially at protecting against severe disease and death.

This new vaccine uses a coronavirus protein—a different method from both Moderna/Pfizer (mRNA vaccines) and AstraZeneca/Johnson & Johnson (adenovirus vaccines). It’s given in two doses, three weeks apart. It had far fewer side effects than other COVID-19 vaccines, with small numbers of participants reporting sore arms and fatigue.

The Novavax vaccine is also comparatively easier to transport and store than other viruses; it can be stored at refrigerated temperatures. While it’s unlikely to be used in the U.S., it could be critical for vaccine rollouts in other parts of the world.

More vaccine data

  • Booster shots exacerbate global vaccine inequity
    At the end of last week’s post on booster shots, I wrote that these additional doses take up airtime in expert discussions and in the media, distracting from discussions of what it will take to vaccinate the world. But these shots do more harm than just taking over the media cycle. When the U.S. and other wealthy nations decide to give many residents third doses, they jump the vaccine supply line again—leaving low-income nations to wait even longer for first doses.
  • Another COVID-19 endgame take
    Trevor Bedford, computational virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center—and widely regarded expert on coronavirus variants—wrote a useful Twitter thread this week. In the thread, Bedford provides his take on the “COVID-19 endgame.” In other words, what will happen once the virus reaches endemic levels?
  • Unreliable population numbers hinder vaccination rate analysis
    An excellent article in the Financial Times, published this past Monday, illuminates one major challenge of estimating a vaccine campaign’s success: population data are not always reliable. Health reporter Oliver Barnes and data reporter John Burn-Murdoch explain that, in several countries and smaller regions, inaccurate counts of how many people live in the region have led to vaccination rate estimates that make the area’s vaccine campaign look more successful—or less successful—than it really is.
  • Booster shots: What we’ve learned—and what we still don’t know
    This week, the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee had a two-day meeting to discuss booster shots for Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccines. From the outside, these meetings may have appeared fairly straightforward: the committee voted unanimously to recommend booster shots for both vaccines. But in fact, the discussions on both days were wide-reaching and full of questions, touching on the many continued gaps in our knowledge about the need for additional vaccine doses.
  • COVID source callout: Booster shot trends
    Since August 13, the CDC’s dashboard says, about 7.3 million Americans have received a third dose. These booster shots are obfuscating the country’s vaccination trends. Over one million people have been vaccinated every day for the past week, but roughly half of those people were getting their booster shots.

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