Erin Kissane, co-founder of the COVID Tracking Project, rolled up her sleeve for the Novavax covid-19 vaccine in mid-October, shortly after it was finally recommended in the United States. Like many people with autoimmune diseases, she wants to protect herself from a potentially devastating covid infection.
Kissane’s autoimmune arthritis appears to make her susceptible to unusual side effects from the vaccine. After receiving an mRNA booster last year, his joints hurt so much that his doctor prescribed steroids to ease the inflammation. She still considers mRNA vaccines “miraculous”, knowing that covid could be much worse than temporary pain.
However, when the pain subsided, she looked into studies of the Novavax vaccine, a vaccine based on proteins rather than mRNA and used since early 2022 in other countries. The data of United Kingdom found that people most frequently reported temporary reactions – such as low-grade fever, fatigue and aches – as their immune systems strengthened in the days after booster vaccination with Moderna’s mRNA vaccine compared to Pfizer’s. And those who received Novavax had fewer complaints than either. This conclusion was corroborated by an analysis of international data published last year.
Such studies have pushed people with long covid and chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME/CFS) to also seek out Novavax, since the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have given the green light to Novavax’s vaccine – updated to protect against recent variants of the omicron coronavirus – about three weeks after recommending updated mRNA vaccines in September.
The wait paid off for Kissane, whose arm was briefly sore. “It was a radically different experience for me,” she said. “I hope this will help others.”
Another group that has been waiting for Novavax are biologists interested in its technology. When asked why he chose Novavax, Florian Krammer, a virologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, answered theformerly known as Twitter: “Because I am (a) vaccine enthusiast, I like vaccines produced by insect cells. »
While mRNA vaccines require the body to produce spike proteins from the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which then train a person’s immune system to recognize and fight the virus, Novavax simply injects the proteins . These proteins are grown in moth cells in the laboratory, while other protein injections use mammalian cells. And Novavax said a special ingredient derived from the bark of Chilean soap trees boosts the vaccine’s potency.
Research suggests that the Novavax vaccine is about as safe and effective as the mRNA shots. Its main disadvantage is arrive late to the stage. The vaccination rate has fallen since the first vaccines became widely available in 2021. 70% of people received the primary vaccines, compared to less than 20% opting for the covid mRNA boosters released last year. The numbers have fallen further: As of October 17, only 5% of the population in the United States had received the latest covid vaccines, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Daniel Park, an epidemiologist at George Washington University, said the low rates could improve if people who feel bad after their last mRNA injections tried Novavax. He protects against serious illness, but researchers are struggling to clarify how effective this and other vaccines are at this point because studies have become difficult to conduct: new variants of the coronavirus continually emerge and people have lower levels of illness. Fluctuating immunity due to previous vaccines and infections.
Always, a recent study in Italy suggests that Novavax is comparable to mRNA vaccines. It remained more than 50% effective in preventing symptomatic covid four months after vaccination. Some data suggests that mixing different types of vaccines gives stronger protection – although other studies have found no benefit.
Given all of this, Park resisted the Novavax vaccine due to its potentially milder side effects. “Between a demanding full-time job and two young children at home, I wanted to stay operational,” he said. His arm was sore, but he didn’t have the 24-hour discomfort that accompanied his last mRNA injection.
Most people do not have a fever after mRNA injections. Even when they do, it is brief and therefore far less damaging than many cases of covid. In fact, most reactions are so minor that they are difficult to interpret. In clinical trials of mRNA vaccines, for example, up to a third of people in the placebo group reported fatigue and headaches after the injection.
People with ME/CFS and long covid – a potentially debilitating illness that persists months after covid infection – have responded to covid vaccinations in various ways. Most participants with long covid in a Canadian study of 83 people said their levels of fatigue, concentration and shortness of breath improved after vaccination. Inflammatory proteins that have been linked to long covid also dropped.
However, larger studies have yet to corroborate these promising results. Jennifer Curtin, a doctor who co-founded a telehealth clinic focused on long covid and ME/CFS called RTHM, said vaccines appear to temporarily worsen some patients’ conditions. To find out how Novavax compares, it released surveys on X in late October asking whether people with long lust Or ME/CFS felt their symptoms worsened, improved, or stayed the same after Novavax. Most answered: unchanged.
“It’s not scientific, but we have to find out since these people don’t want to get covid,” Curtin said. “My patients are all wondering which vaccine to get right now.”
Adding to the uncertainty, the rollout of the Novavax and mRNA vaccines has been bumpy as pharmacies struggle to predict demand and insurance companies figure out how to reimburse providers for the shots. Unlike previous vaccine offerings, these options are no longer fully covered by the federal government. A testament to this season’s struggle to get vaccinated is that at least one benefactor has created an online tool to find open appointments for Novavax.
Building on stories of relief from others with long covid, Hayley Brown, a researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research who suffers from the illness, recently switched to Novavax. Unfortunately, his symptoms flared. She said temporary discomfort would always be preferable to the risk of another infection. “As someone who has had Covid for a long time, the thought of catching Covid again is terrifying.”