Medical company Novavax introduced a new FDA-authorized COVID booster shot in early October, expanding the options of available COVID vaccines. This booster specifically targets the XBB.1.5 SARS-CoV-2 variant, a descendant of Omicron, distinguishing itself as the first protein vaccine in over a year. Unlike other mRNA vaccines, such as those developed by Pfizer and Moderna, Novavax employs a more traditional method, directly injecting proteins resembling those in SARS-CoV-2 into the body. The Novavax vaccine includes Matrix-M, a proprietary compound extracted from Chilean soapbark trees, enhancing the immune system. Matrix-M has also been integrated into other vaccines, including one endorsed by the World Health Organization for malaria.
Similar to the updated shots from Moderna and Pfizer, the Novavax vaccine is not optimized for newer virus versions like Eris and Pirola, as it is specifically designed to target the XBB.1.5 variant. Unlike mRNA vaccines, the Novavax vaccine is more convenient for distribution and storage, as it can be kept at normal refrigeration temperatures. However, the development of new formulas for emerging variants in protein vaccines takes longer compared to the adaptable mRNA vaccines.
Novavax demonstrates effectiveness similar to other COVID vaccines, with its booster being approximately 55% effective at preventing symptoms and 31% effective at preventing infection. Studies indicate that mixing and matching different vaccine types yield comparable antibody responses, with some studies favoring the use of both boosters, taking the mRNA after protein vaccines. The longevity of antibodies from the Novavax booster, which lasts longer than those from mRNA vaccines according to research, remains inconclusive due to confounding variables of preexisting immunity.
In terms of safety, the Novavax booster poses a lower risk of causing myocarditis or pericarditis compared to mRNA vaccines and shows fewer side effects in the initial 48 hours after vaccination. The booster is currently available in pharmacies, distributed to numerous locations, and is recommended as a single dose.
In AP Biology, we learned how mRNA vaccines for COVID work, as the vaccine introduces antigen-encoding mRNA into immune cells. These cells utilize the mRNA as a guide to produce foreign proteins resembling those created by the COVID virus. These protein molecules then trigger an adaptive immune response, instructing the body to recognize and eliminate the actual COVID virus.
Is the Novavax booster the real deal? mRNA vaccines, such as Moderna and Pfizer, have been proven effective and have worked extremely well in the past. Their contributors, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, were recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Novavax has just been approved with not much prior history in its effectiveness or side effects open to the public. Personally, I believe that the mRNA vaccines are way safer options regarding their previous successes, however, the benefits and pros of the Novavax listed by scientists and researchers might as well outweigh its uncertainty. If you have the choice of taking the new Novavax booster or the mRNA boosters, which one would you choose considering their pros and cons?