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What we know about the Novavax vaccine and why it could be an option for SA

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The vaccine has shown promising efficacy in the clinical space against mild to moderate infection, specifically against South Africa’s dominant virus variant.

File picture: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

THE NOVAX vaccine has shown to provide protection against the dominant virus variant in South Africa and the country should pursue the vaccine option, according to professor of vaccinology at Wits University Shabir Madhi.

Madhi, who is the Novavax clinical trial principal investigator in the country, said the vaccine has shown promising efficacy in the clinical space against mild to moderate infection, specifically against South Africa’s dominant virus variant.

The American biotech development company is currently running clinical trials of the two-dose vaccine in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

In late January, Novavax released results from its phase three trial data showing vaccine efficacy was 86% effective against the UK strain but only 60% effective against South Africa’s dominant virus variant.

Novavax CEO Stanley Erck said in a press release: “It is the first vaccine to demonstrate not only high clinical efficacy against Covid-19 but also significant clinical efficacy against both the rapidly emerging UK and South Africa variants”.

Madhi said the Novavax efficacy to the variant and severe disease is likely to be above 85%.

“South Africa should definitely be pursuing the Novavax vaccine. A 60% efficacy against mild-moderate infection is probably as good as you will get for any vaccine.

’’For the AstraZeneca vaccine there was no efficacy, and for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine it’s still unknown. Preventing mild disease is more difficult than preventing severe disease,” he said.

The next-generation vaccine could be cleared for use in the United States (US) by May if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorises it based on data from the company’s British trial, which could be completed as soon as April.

Phase three trial in the US remains ongoing, with over 30,000 participants.

Novavax could follow the three other approved vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, which have been authorised for use in the US.

How the Novavax vaccine works

The protein-based vaccine is based on novel technology. It targets the spike protein of the coronavirus itself, which is produced and formulated as a nanoparticle type structure.

Once the vaccine is injected, it stimulates the immune system to start producing antibodies and also induces T-cell immune responses.

The vaccine can neither cause Covid-19 nor can it replicate the virus. It can be stored at 2- 8°C which is a regular refrigerated temperature.