New protein-based COVID-19 vaccine could help boost rates, say pharmacists

·4 min read
Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine Nuvaxovid can be used for a primary series or a third dose for 'people who have been unable, due to contraindications, or not willing to receive an mRNA COVID19 vaccine,' the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has said. (REUTERS - image credit)
Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine Nuvaxovid can be used for a primary series or a third dose for 'people who have been unable, due to contraindications, or not willing to receive an mRNA COVID19 vaccine,' the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has said. (REUTERS - image credit)

For New Brunswickers who have been hesitant or unable to get an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, there's now a new option.

Novavax Nuvaxovid, the first protein-based COVID vaccine authorized for use in Canada for people 18 and older, became available in New Brunswick last week, says the Department of Health.

There are about 320 doses in the province, said spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane.

Only four pharmacies are currently administering them — one each in Fredericton, Dieppe, Saint John and Miramichi.

Ayub Chishti, pharmacist and manager of the Fredericton location, Campus Pharmacy, said the uptake so far "hasn't been that great."

But what Novavax Nuvaxovid has done, he said, is encourage some people who are unvaccinated to finally get their shot.

Submitted by Ayub Chishti
Submitted by Ayub Chishti

Chishti vaccinated about 10 people at a Nuvaxovid clinic last week and has another 10 booked at a clinic this Thursday. He estimates about half of them "would not have got the vaccine if it wasn't for this one."

"There was so much controversy with the mRNA vaccines and the technology was new. … So they were nervous about getting the vaccine and they wanted to see what effects it had on people.

"But with the Novavax, it feels as a Canadian product, they feel a bit more convinced that it's a good product."

How is this vaccine different?

Health Canada's chief medical adviser, Dr. Supriya Sharma, has said both vaccine types have the same objective — to expose a person's immune system to the SARS-CoV2 spike protein and activate the immune system to make antibodies to neutralize it the next time the person is exposed to the virus. But the approaches are different.

"mRNA vaccines contain molecular manufacturing instructions for our cells to make the spike protein. With a protein subunit vaccine, a modified version of the spike protein itself is delivered," she said.

"These vaccines cannot cause COVID-19 because they only contain small purified pieces of proteins and not the virus itself."

Protein-based vaccines are already used for other diseases, such as hepatitis B, pertussis (whooping cough) and influenza.

"The most important part of getting vaccinated is to feel comfortable with it," said Chishti. "And with Novavax, that is providing a little bit more comfort zone to a few remaining ones, which is good."

Nearly 7% of eligible population unvaccinated

Dennis Abud, pharmacist owner of the Dieppe dispenser, Jean Coutu, and a board member of the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association, agrees.

"I'm just happy that there's [another] option," he said.

With COVID-19 restrictions, such as masking, lifted, "our last line of defence is vaccines. So, you know, the more people we can get vaccinated the better."

A total of 51.8 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have received their COVID-19 booster dose as of last Tuesday's COVIDWatch update from the province, up from 51.6 per cent a week prior, 87.8 per cent have received two doses, up from 87.7 per cent, and 93.1 per cent have received their first dose, up from 93 per cent.

Oceane Doucet/Radio-Canada
Oceane Doucet/Radio-Canada

Abud held his first Nuvaxovid clinic last week. He had 10 people booked because each vial contains 10 doses and once a vial is opened, it only lasts for about six hours.

Only eight of them got vaccinated though.

"Unfortunately, two people that were on our list, they contracted COVID so they couldn't get their dose," he said.

Some of the people opted for Nuvaxovid because they had reactions to prior mRNA vaccines, while others are federal government employees who couldn't return to work if they weren't vaccinated, said Abud.

He has 20 more doses and is taking names now for future clinics, yet to be scheduled.

"Once we have [enough] names, we have to call all those people back and get them set up for a certain day. So unfortunately, it's a little bit more time consuming" than the Pfizer and Moderna clinics, which he holds twice a week.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) continues to "preferentially" recommend mRNA vaccines for people 18 and older who have no contraindications, but says Nuvaxovid may be offered as a primary series or a third dose for people in this age group "who are not able or willing to receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine."

Trial data involving about 45,000 people in multiple countries suggests Nuvaxovid is more than 90 per cent effective in preventing severe illness and death when given two doses, 21 days apart.

The trials were conducted by Novavax when the Alpha variant was predominant.

The most common potential side effects of Nuvaxovid are said to be similar to those of the four previously approved COVID-19 vaccines in Canada: soreness at the injection spot, chills, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, nausea and headaches.

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