India to get 2 billion Novavax vaccine doses between August and December

India to get 2 billion Novavax vaccine doses between August and December

Likely to be priced at Rs 1,114 per dose in India, Novavax vaccine will be a two-dose jab like the other vaccines

Novavax vaccine leaves Covishield, Covaxin way behind with 90.4% overall efficacy

File Image of a vial of the Phase 3 Novavax coronavirus vaccine ready for use in the trial at St. George’s University hospital in London. AP

It will be called Covovax in India and the Centre expects 200 million doses of the vaccine to be available for use in India by the end of 2021. Here’s all you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine being produced by the US-based Novavax, and why it has raised hopes of countries bringing about a swifter end to the pandemic.

How good is the efficacy rate?

The NVX-CoV2373, as the vaccine being made by the US-based biotechnology firm Novavax, Inc. is called, has shown 90.4 percent overall efficacy in Phase 3 clinical trials. That puts it in the same bracket as two of the frontline vaccines being used in the US and European countries, the ones produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which had efficacy rates of 91.3 percent and 90 percent in Phase 3 trials, respectively. The Novavax jab’s efficacy rate is also substantially higher than the Covishield (76 percent in US trials) and the Covaxin (81 percent) vaccines that are driving India’s inoculation drive. The third vaccine currently cleared for use in India, the Russian-made Sputnik V, has an almost similar efficacy rate of 91.6 percent.

The Novavax vaccine was also found to provide 100 percent protection against moderate and severe disease in the study that involved 29,960 participants in the US and Mexico. It also had 91 percent efficacy in high-risk populations.

The efficacy rate of a vaccine is, of course, the percentage reduction of a disease in a vaccinated group compared with an unvaccinated group in a clinical trial. It is different from the effectiveness of a vaccine, which measures how well a vaccine works when given to people outside of clinical trials.

What kind of vaccine is the Novavax jab?

While the Novavax candidate is a protein-based vaccine, it targets the same mechanism as most other vaccines in training the body to ward off the novel coronavirus . By now it is well-known that the novel coronavirus uses the spike proteins on its surface to invade and infect human cells. So, vaccine-makers all try to devise ways to mimic this spike protein so that they can introduce a harmless version of it into the human body. The idea is that once the immune system recognises this spike protein, it will start producing antibodies that can attack the novel coronavirus when it tries to enter the body.

According to The New York Times, the Novavax vaccine uses a modified spike protein that scientists obtained by inserting its genetic information into a different virus, called a baculovirus. This baculovirus was then used to insert the novel coronavirus spike protein into moth cells. These moth cells in turn produced the spikes on their cell membranes that were collected by scientists. After harvesting these spike cells, the scientists assemble them into so-called nanoparticles that are mixed with a synthetic soap-like particle.

Though these nanoparticles mimic the molecular structure of the novel coronavirus , they cannot replicate or cause COVID-19 .

A two-dose vaccine-like most other COVID-19 jabs, the Novavx shot is injected into the arm “along with a compound extracted from the soapbark tree” that the NYT says “attracts immune cells to the site of the injection and causes them to respond more strongly to the nanoparticles”. While the vaccine can be thus described as a protein subunit or protein-based vaccine, Novavax itself has termed it a “recombinant nanoparticle protein-based” vaccine.

How soon will it be out?

Laying out its plan for getting 2 billion doses between August and December this year, the Centre had said that the stocks would include 200 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, which the Pune-based Serum Institute of India will be manufacturing in India as part of its partnership with Novavax.

Following the announcement of its Phase-3 trial data, Novavax said it will apply for emergency use authorisation in the US in the third quarter of 2021, that is between July and September. But Novavax CEO Stanley Erck was cited by New York Times as saying that since the US already has plenty of vaccine stocks for domestic inoculations, there is a chance that the country’s drug watchdog will ask it to go for full approval, which is a lengthier process.

However, while the US may be well endowed now on the vaccine front, there are many countries across the world that can use any extra doses that they can get their hands on. This is why the Novavax CEO said that their vaccine will perhaps secure approval for use elsewhere and is applying in Britain, the European Union, India and South Korea.

Preliminary reports suggest that the vaccine will be priced at Rs 1,114 per dose in India.

How effective is it against variants?

It is the interplay of fast-emerging variants and declining immunity in driving the pandemic that may put the focus on Novavax in the weeks and months to come. Novavax said that the efficacy of its vaccine was 93.2 percent against Variants of Concern (VoC) and Variants of Interest (VoI), which represented 82 percent of the cases during trials. The company added that the efficacy data was collected between end-January and end-April this year — when the Alpha, or B.1.1.7 variant that was first identified in the UK became the predominant strain in the US.

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