Why Maryland's Novavax COVID Shot May Convince the Unvaccinated

The Novavax shot is a protein-based vaccine, whereas the Moderna and Pfizer shots use newer, messenger RNA technology. A University of Maryland School of Medicine doctor and researcher explains the difference

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The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine will hit the market soon, and some doctors believe a difference between this shot and others could change the minds of Americans who still aren’t vaccinated.

Novavax, based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, received emergency use authorization Wednesday from the Food and Drug Administration

The company says its two-dose series of shots has a 90.4% efficacy. It’s the first protein-based COVID vaccine, using older technology also found in shingles and HPV vaccines. The Moderna and Pfizer shots use newer technology and are messenger RNA vaccines that “teach our cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response inside our bodies,” as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains.

Dr. Karen Kotloff of the University of Maryland School of Medicine helped break down the similarities and differences. She helped lead clinical trials for Novavax, testing about 30,000 people. 

“The basis of all vaccines now is the spike protein. It’s those little things that stick out around the virus, that allow them to attach to our cells,” she said. 

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines give your body the tools to make the protein, Kotloff explained. The Novavax vaccine gives your body the actual protein, already made. Then, if you’re exposed to COVID, your body will be ready. 

The Novavax shot could be more appealing for people who are still unvaccinated, Kotloff said. 

“I think there are people who are much more comfortable with protein-based vaccines,” she said. “The newness of messenger RNA makes some people uncomfortable.” 

Novavax made their shot based on the original coronavirus but the vaccine has held up well against new variants, Kotloff said. The company said it’s working on an updated, omicron version and seeking booster approval. 

It says one advantage of its shot is it only needs a normal refrigerator, unlike the Pfizer shot, which has to be kept in extreme cold. 

“Every place does not have a minus 80 freezer. It will be more accessible to far reaches in the United States, and then globally this will be a huge advantage,” Kotloff said. 

Novavax says they it has a deal with the U.S. Department of Health to provide about 3 million doses. Before that can happen, the CDC will meet Tuesday to sign off on the vaccine.

About 78% of Americans have received at least one COVID vaccine dose, according to CDC data. 

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