COVID source shout-out: Novavax’s booster is now available

This week, the FDA authorized Novavax’s updated COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC’s fall vaccine recommendations were already set up to include Novavax once it was authorized, so pharmacies and health providers can start administering it without any additional hurdles at the federal level.

Novavax’s new vaccine, like the options from Pfizer and Moderna for this fall, is designed to protect against XBB.1.5, a recently circulating variant that is closely related to most of the strains causing disease in the U.S. right now. But unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (which use mRNA technology), Novavax’s uses a piece of viral spike protein to teach recipients’ immune systems how to recognize the coronavirus.

Some scientists and health advocates I follow have been particularly looking forward to the Novavax authorization, hoping to get their shot rather than one of the mRNA options. There are two main reasons for this choice, based on my reading:

  • The Novavax vaccine may have fewer or easier side effects than the mRNA vaccines. This is particularly appealing for some people who had poor reactions to earlier mRNA vaccine doses (including, in some cases, long-term issues similar to Long COVID), and some people with chronic conditions.
  • Some experts say that “mixing and matching” different types of vaccines might lead to a more robust, long-term immune response against the coronavirus, compared to sticking with one vaccine type. 

A recent article in Science goes into more detail about these considerations. Writer Jennifer Couzin-Frankel walks through scientific studies that look at Novavax compared to the other vaccine options, and explains some of the questions that we don’t have sufficient data to answer yet. For example, as fewer people have received Novavax vaccines compared to the mRNA options, it’s harder to see signals for potential rare adverse reactions. More studies are coming in that will help address these questions, but for now, many people are making personal choices about which vaccine to get this fall.

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