Indonesia has become the first country in the world to grant emergency authorisation to the Novavax vaccine for COVID-19.
The vaccine, which was developed by American company Novavax and will (in Indonesia’s case) be manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, is going to start shipping to Indonesia immediately.
The Novavax vaccine is a different type of vaccine to the three currently being rolled out in Australia: it’s a protein subunit vaccine. Unlike the AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which all contain instructions to make a part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the Novavax vaccine adds part of the virus itself directly to the body.
The vaccine contains SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins, which, when combined with an adjuvant(a substance that strengthens an immune response), should trigger the immune system to prepare defences against COVID-19.
While each of these vaccines uses the same method, they all have very different ingredients and very different methods of keeping the COVID spike proteins stable for long enough to trigger an immune response.
The Novavax spike proteins have been grown in lab-based insect cells. Novavax has stabilised them by mixing them with a compound called polysorbate 80 (a common food additive, used in things such as ice cream). The proteins then form microscopic “rosettes”, which keep the spike proteins in the same shape.
The vaccine is stable at temperatures of 2°C to 8°C, making it much easier to transport than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which both need to be kept well below zero. In Phase III trials, the vaccine has demonstrated an efficacy of more than 90% at preventing infection, and close to 100% at preventing serious illness. (As always, it’s difficult to compare efficacy across vaccines, because the trials have all been done in different places at different stages of the pandemic.)
Australia has ordered 51 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, and Novavax filed for provisional approval from the TGA last week. The TGA is reviewing the data, and has not yet made any announcements about approval.
Currently, roughly 25% of Indonesia’s population is fully vaccinated (just under 70 million people). The country has officially recorded over 4 million cases of COVID-19, with 143,000 deaths.
Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.
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