RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — You could soon have a fourth COVID-19 vaccine to choose from.
But are there enough people holding out for the Novavax shot to make it worth the effort?
About a third of North Carolinians have yet to get even a single dose of vaccine. And if you’re one of them, you’re going to have another option — Novavax, which was recently approved by the FDA.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which meets Tuesday, still has to give its final approval before doses can be given.
But for Dr. Cynthia Gay, who ran an arm of the Novavax trial at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, getting to this point provides a “big relief.”
For the millions of unvaccinated people across the country — including roughly 3 million in North Carolina alone — it’s hard to guess how many were holding out for Novavax.
“When you add up all those individuals across all the different cities and states and across the globe, you know, that’s a sizable chunk of people who now have another alternative if they need it,” Gay said.
North Carolina is averaging fewer than 1,000 people a day getting their first shot. At that pace, vaccinating every single one of those holdouts would take another eight years.
That’s why public health officials welcome any type of increase, no matter how incremental.
“Vaccination rates in the United States are not really where we want them to be,” Gay said. “So if we have another option for a vaccine that might encourage or allow some of those unvaccinated folks to get vaccinated, that would be great.”
The reason Maryland-based Novavax has a dedicated following of fans on social media — they call themselves “Novastans,” — is because the vaccine differs from market leaders Pfizer and Moderna in one key way.
They’re mRNA vaccines. Novavax is not. It relies on technology that has been around for decades — using a harmless piece of the spike protein from the virus itself to prompt an antibody response, much like common Hepatitis B and flu vaccines.
And unlike the mRNA vaccines, it doesn’t have to be kept at frigid temperatures.
Gay says she has heard from holdouts through the trial and in the lead-up to approval from the various governmental agencies.
But once the CDC gives that final green light, as is widely expected, it seems impractical to expect them all to make a mad dash for pharmacies and clinics.
But Gay says the recent rise in cases and hospital admissions might provide a bit more urgency.
“We’re in such a different place with the pandemic,” Gay said. “But I do think, in the last week or so, we’re starting to get an indication that cases are going up again in the United States and elsewhere. So it may be a bit timely in that sense.”
Data appear promising that Novavax vaccine offers some broad protection against newer omicron variants — like BA.5, which is now the dominant strain across the U.S. and in North Carolina — Gay said.
“I think it shows that there is some cross-protection,” she said, adding that “fingers crossed, if Novavax becomes available as a booster in the United States, based on this data, I would say I think there are going to be a lot of individuals and physicians who would recommend it.”
CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.