RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Another COVID-19 vaccine is on the verge of being approved by the federal government.

But there’s no shortage of doses of the three existing brands of vaccine in pharmacy refrigerators.

So that raises a question: Do we really need another vaccine?

“Maybe the bigger question is just what does a fourth vaccine actually do?” said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at the Duke University School of Medicine.

Published reports this week indicated Maryland-based Novavax expects the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve its COVID vaccine in the coming weeks.

That could come as welcome news to a group that calls itself the “Novostans” — vaccine holdouts who say they’d be less hesitant to get shots from Novavax.

But are there enough of them to make a significant difference?

“If this can help move a few people across the road to get a dose, then we’re all better for that,” Wolfe said.

They say they prefer Novavax because the composition of that vaccine differs so greatly from that of the two market leaders, Pfizer and Moderna.

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.

“For some of us, we're maybe hoping that there's going to be some small percentage of people who have been reluctant to get a vaccine because of the, quote, newer technology of mRNA vaccines, who might be willing,” said Dr. Cynthia Gay, who is running a Novavax trial at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

She says she’s been hearing from holdouts throughout the trial, asking when the Novavax shots will be available to them.

“If you add up all the emails across all the investigators and all the different states and who've been doing these studies,” she said, “maybe it's enough to make some difference.”

It’s hard to pin down exactly how big that group is, though we do know 23 percent of people across the U.S. and 35 percent of those in North Carolina have not even gotten a single dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health and Human Services.

“What is required for those extra 25 percent to sort of come in off the fence and take a protective jab is a really important question,” Wolfe said.

Vaccine access and scarcity is nowhere near as big a problem in this country as it is elsewhere, and that could ultimately lead to Novavax’s biggest advantage — unlike the others, it doesn’t have to be kept cold.

“The best news, really, is for sort of outside the U.S., sort of on a more global scale, given where we are in the pandemic,” Gay said. “It becomes much more, logistically and infrastructure-wise, a really great vaccine for a lot of low-resource settings. So I think it's still really great news, particularly if you look at sort of on a true global scale.”


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.