Santa Clara County residents will soon have another COVID-19 vaccine option that may be more amenable to those who remain unvaccinated.
The two-dose shot, produced by Maryland drugmaker Novavax, is the nation’s first so-called protein vaccine. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved its use for unvaccinated adults ages 18 and older. Compared to the previously available vaccines, the new shots employ more traditional technology in use for more than 30 years to fight against COVID. Those who are already vaccinated are not eligible.
The vaccine has been in the works for two years. It provides the body with protein to fight COVID-19 infections, while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use an mRNA-based approach to tell the body how to develop immunity. Both types of vaccines are safe and effective at preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19, county officials said.
The Novavax COVID shots will offer an alternative for residents who prefer a shot based on conventional technology and those with a history of allergic reactions to an mRNA vaccine, county officials noted. Officials encourage residents to consult with their primary care physicians about their choices.
“Adding the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine to our inventory adds another viable option to keep individuals, friends, families and the general public protected against severe disease,” Dr. Jennifer Tong, associate chief medical officer for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, said in a statement, adding the county is ordering shots.
The new COVID vaccine comes as 86.3% of all Santa Clara County residents are fully vaccinated. Roughly 68% of the population is also boosted. More than 264,000 people are unvaccinated, the county estimated.
“We anticipate demand for the Novavax vaccine to be very small,” county officials told San José Spotlight. “It has only been approved for use as the primary series of vaccine, not as a booster, and much of the population is already vaccinated.”
Santa Clara County remains on alert as the COVID subvariant BA.5 continues to drive the high number of infections. The current seven-day rolling average is at 1,073 reported infections as of Wednesday—comparable to the spike in cases in May. But officials believe the real number is even higher than during the Delta surge at this point last summer. Many residents are testing at home and not reporting their results to the county system. The county is seeing anywhere from six to nine deaths each week with COVID-19, officials added.
Dr. Dean Winslow, professor of medicine at Stanford University, participated in one of the federal hearings on the Novavax vaccine several weeks ago. Though impressed with its efficacy rate, he noted the Novavax vaccine might not have better protection than existing vaccines in preventing infections from the omicron subvariants that are sweeping the nation.
“There’s really no evidence that (Novavax) would be more effective against the BA.5 or any of the omicron variants,” Winslow told San José Spotlight, adding the technology is based on the original COVID-19 strain.
It’s not immediately clear when the Novavax vaccine will be available in Silicon Valley. The federal government has secured 3.2 million doses so far, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Winslow also said the new vaccine will have little impact locally.
“It may not have as much of an impact in the Bay Area, as it might in parts of the United States where there’s been more vaccine hesitancy,” he said. There are 26 million to 37 million adults not vaccinated for COVID-19 in the U.S., according to the CDC.