Moths and tree bark–The new Novavax vaccine is the latest in the fight against COVID-19

Black Americans, according to the CDC, have the lowest vaccination rates of any ethnic group.

Novavax has developed a fourth COVID-19 vaccine using moth cells and tree bark. The subunit protein vaccine does not contain polyethylene glycol (PEG), an ingredient in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which some folks discovered they were allergic to upon getting vaccinated.

How does the vaccine work?

When the immune system first encounters a disease-causing pathogen, like the coronavirus, it creates proteins called antibodies. If the pathogen infects the body again, those antibodies can quickly identify it, disable it, and trigger the immune system to attack.

The purpose of a vaccine is to get the immune system to produce antibodies to a pathogen before it infects the body the first time, and there are several ways to do this.

The Novavax vaccine contains a protein that is concocted from moth cells plus an adjuvant (commonly used in vaccines) from a compound extracted from the bark of a tree native to Chile. An adjuvant is an ingredient used in some vaccines that helps create a stronger immune response in people receiving the vaccine. In other words, adjuvants help vaccines work better. The Novavax vaccine uses parts of the spike protein manufactured in a lab.

To create its vaccine, Novavax modified a virus that infects insects to instead deliver the gene that makes the coronavirus’s spike protein. The virus was then used to infect insect cells. The insect cells manufacture the coronavirus spike protein, which is then harvested and purified for use in Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine.

All alone, the spike protein is harmless and can’t cause COVID-19. When your immune system encounters the lonely spike protein, it produces antibodies against it.

The Novavax will not give you the COVID-19 infection. It does not contain an either live or inactivated virus.

The trial results are impressive

Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine requires only a small amount of the manufactured spike protein, which makes it easy to produce quickly in large quantities.

Additionally, unlike Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines, which must be stored at freezing temperatures until use, Novavax’s only requires refrigerator temperatures, which could make it easier to distribute.

The Maryland-based biotech firm Novavax announced its latest stunning trial results and an efficacy rate of more than 90 percent even against coronavirus variants.

“NVX-CoV2373 is the first vaccine to demonstrate not only high clinical efficacy against COVID-19 but also significant clinical efficacy against both the rapidly emerging U.K. and South Africa variants,” Novavax CEO Stanley C. Erck said in the press release.

Phase 3 trials of Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine are ongoing in the U.S. and Mexico, so we could be seeing more results in the near future.

If the vaccine does well in those trials and secures regulatory approval, Novavax says it could produce 2 billion doses in 2021 — and Australia, the European Union, and the U.S. are among the groups eager to snatch up the vaccine as soon as it’s available.

Black Americans, according to the CDC, have the lowest vaccination rates of any ethnic group, and a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found about 35% of Black Americans said they would not get the vaccine amid concerns about trust, safety, and the newness of the vaccines.

Perhaps this latest vaccine news will encourage those who are still on the fence about getting vaccinated.