UMass professor explains emergency use authorization for Novavax COVID-19 vaccine

A new COVID-19 vaccine was just authorized by the FDA for emergency use.
Published: Jul. 14, 2022 at 4:00 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 14, 2022 at 4:49 PM EDT
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AMHERST, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - A new COVID-19 vaccine was just authorized by the FDA for emergency use. The Novavax version uses a different type of vaccine technology than the shots already available and the CDC is expected to recommend it this month.

“I went on the COVID unit to help people and now, I’m on a COVID unit. It was very scary,” said Jodee Pineau-Chaisson.

Pineau-Chaisson was working at an Amherst nursing home when she came down with virus in May 2020, long before the vaccine rollout. Since then, she’s gotten the two-dose Pfizer vaccine, a Moderna booster shot, and just last week, a second booster.

“This last booster I took, it wasn’t bad. It was like I was freezing. I was tired for a few days. I’m glad I did it,” Pineau-Chaisson added.

Now, Americans may have access to a new kind of COVID-19 vaccine that’s unlike the others, but uses familiar technology.

“This is an old-school vaccine. This is something that we have seen before and we’ve been using for decades,” said UMass Amherst microbiologist Dr. Erika Hamilton.

Hamilton told Western Mass News that the Novavax vaccine uses protein fragments to teach the immune system how to spot the virus and fight it off. If you’re vaccinated against Hepatitis B or whooping cough, you’ve probably already had a vaccine that works like this.

“So there’s no RNA, there’s no DNA. It’s pieces of proteins from the virus itself and it is a two-shot sequence four weeks apart,” Hamilton explained.

Hamilton said the vaccine appears to have a broad immune system response to the B.A.5 omicron offshoot, the dominant variant right now, with a 90 percent efficacy and fewer side-effects.

“Some people, when they get either Moderna or Pfizer, really get, feel awful for a day or two, but this seems to be a little less intense,” Hamilton noted.

The federal government has ordered 3.2 million doses to be shipped out once okayed by the CDC. Already used in 170 countries, Hamilton hopes the one-third of Americans who are still unvaccinated over fears of the new technology will reconsider.

“Your excuse is over now. We have been using this old technology, so hopefully, that makes people more comfortable and more likely to get a vaccine because we need to get more people vaccinate,” Hamilton said.

The Novavax vaccine could also be used as a booster. As a COVID-19 long hauler, Pineau-Chaisson has bouts of extreme fatigue and brain fog and worries what a re-infection would mean for her health.

“I don’t want to get it again, you know, and I wouldn’t want to see a close friend or family get it or anybody get it,” Pineau-Chaisson said.

Less than 35 percent of those eligible have received any booster at all, according to the CDC. Right now, you can only get a second booster if you’re over age 50 or in certain high-risk groups, but the FDA is considering whether to expand eligibility.