What Is the Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine?

Dr. Paul Offit talks about the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, including how it is made, what differentiates it from the mRNA-type COVID-19 vaccines (made by Pfizer and Moderna), what we know about its safety, how well it works, and how it might be useful for booster dosing.


What is the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine?

Paul Offit, MD: Hi, my name is Paul Offit. I'm talking to you today, Thursday, June the 9th, from the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. What I want to talk about is a new vaccine, a new weapon in this fight against COVID. So, on June the 7th, two days ago, the Food and Drug Administration's Vaccine Advisory Committee met to discuss a vaccine that's made by Novavax. Now, this vaccine is a different strategy than the previous Pfizer vaccine or Moderna vaccine because the way those vaccines work is you give the person the gene that codes for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, the surface protein, and then your body, cells in your body, make that protein. That's the way those two vaccines work. And the antibodies that you make then against that protein, that surface protein, prevent the virus from binding to cells and therefore protect you.

This is a different strategy. Here, instead of giving the gene that codes for the protein, you actually give the protein itself. You give the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. It's adjuvanted with an adjuvant that is called Matrix-M. That is the same adjuvant that’s been used in the Shingrix® now for about five years, so there's a lot of experience with that adjuvant. And most importantly, I think this particular technology, giving the protein itself to induce an immune response, is a well-worn technology. We've been using it to make the hepatitis B vaccine for 30 years. And we also used the same strategy to make the human papillomavirus vaccine and one of the influenza vaccines called Flublock®.

So, what do we know about this vaccine so far? What we know is that in the groups that were tested so far, which is about a 30,000-person study, that the vaccine is very likely to protect against moderate to severe disease caused by the current circulating strains. I think we also know that it's generally safe, but there were a few cases, three cases, of young men who after the second dose of the vaccine had mild, short-lived, transient myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle. That's very similar to what was seen with the mRNA vaccines. Now, we'll see whether or not this holds up when the vaccine is given to more people, but it is a concern, and I think that we'll be looking at this to see whether or not what happened with the mRNA vaccines might also be true with this particular vaccine.

I think the strength of this vaccine is probably going to be as a booster dose for current vaccines. So, in other words, right now, some people get the Pfizer vaccine and then will boost with Moderna or get the Moderna vaccine and then boost later with the Pfizer vaccine. Here, this is a different strategy. So, I think the strength of this vaccine will probably be as a booster using a completely now different strategy from the mRNA vaccines may provide a more powerful boost. In the end, I think that the Nova vaccine also, this Novavax vaccine will also be a three-dose vaccine as compared to just two doses, but we'll see.

So, I think that we have now another weapon in our fight against COVID-19, and I think that's going to be a value. Right now, it’s June 9th, the FDA still has to approve this vaccine and then the CDC has to recommend it, but I think that is likely to happen.

Thank you.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Jun 14, 2022