How the Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine Works

Novavax is a protein vaccine for COVID-19 which is currently in phase 3 of clinical trials (large scale final phase trials) and will likely be available in Australia during 2021. Australia has ordered 51 million doses of the vaccine which will mean there is enough to immunize the whole of Australia. The vaccine was developed by Novavax inc and is awaiting the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) approval before it is rolled out in Australia.

The Vaccine will need to be administered in two doses. The current phase 3 trial spaced the doses 21 days apart, however, this the time between doses may be increased due to the type of vaccine being suitable for it. The Novavax vaccine has reported an 89% efficacy in the 15,000 volunteers in the UK trial. It was suggested it had a 95.6% efficacy against the original coronavirus, however, it had an 85.6% efficacy against the UK variant. These numbers are nothing short of remarkable for a disease which would typically have taken 10 years or more to get to this stage and be this effective.

The vaccine contains two things, a protein and an adjuvent. Essentially the protein enters the body has a foreign “thing” – this thing is reffered to as an antigen. This initiates a complex immune response which results in the immune system developing a another protein which binds to the antigen – this is known as the antibody. Ok, so what is the adjuvent for? The adjuvent essentially makes this response stronger, boosting the immune systems response. This means once the body encounters a pathogen which contains the spike protein it encountered from the vaccine, it will be able to develop the same antibody – rendering that pathogen obsolete.

Labelled diagram of structural proteins of the SARs-CoV-2 virus. This includes the size of the SARs-CoV-2 virus, the spike protein, nucleocapsid, envelope protein and the membrane protein.
Labeled diagram of structural proteins of the SARs-CoV-2 virus

Here is the cool part. The protein from the vaccine contains the spike protein you see on the surface of the above covid-19 virus particle. This protein is produced by infecting moth cells with a genetically modified virus allowing researchers to extract and purify the spike protein that they make. This technique has safely been used before for virus’ such as influenza and HPV.

The extracted proteins arrange themselves into nanoparticle structures which can then be injected into patients arm muscles, with the adjuvant to engage the human immune system.

The body retains the information from the vaccine in memory B and memory T cells – this is good news, it means will likely retain the ability to fight Covid-19 for decades to come.

So the world is at the beginning of its quest into hear immunity against COVID-19. Novavax vaccine is likely going to be instrumental in this development and allow the world which will resemble pre covid-19 normality.

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