‘Waiting for Novavax’: Why the new jab might sway the unvaccinated

Charlotte EltonThe West Australian
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A considerable number of unvaccinated people have been “waiting” for the Novavax coronavirus vaccine to be approved before rolling up their sleeves.
Camera IconA considerable number of unvaccinated people have been “waiting” for the Novavax coronavirus vaccine to be approved before rolling up their sleeves. Credit: Alastair Grant/AP

The Novavax jab has been approved — but will the unvaccinated who have been waiting for it finally roll up their sleeves?

The vaccine — green-lit Thursday by the Therapeutic Goods Administration — is the first protein-based jab available to Australians. The government has ordered 51 million doses.

A considerable number of unvaccinated people have been “waiting” for the approval, Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

“Hopefully this will encourage those people in the last five per cent to come forward,” Mr Hunt said.

Though existing vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective, mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna are the subject of a storm of online misinformation.

“Waiting for Novavax” — which uses different immunisation technology to other approved doses— has become a common catch cry amongst the vaccine hesitant.

One Perth woman — who spoke to the West on the condition of anonymity — said that the TGA decision had convinced her to roll up for the first time.

“I am not anti-vax, I have just been waiting for a protein vaccine to be approved,” she said.

“I wish it hadn’t taken so long.”

Preparing a needle to vaccinate a patient.
Camera IconThe Novavax was green-lit in Thursday by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Credit: Scitech/Supplied

So what exactly is a “protein vaccine?”

Vaccines get your immune system to react to a harmless version or part of a virus. Should you be infected, your immune system is prepared to recognise — and fight off — the real thing.

COVID-19 vaccines use the “spike protein” to trigger an immune response. Ever seen a picture depicting COVID-19 as a sphere covered in spiky bumps? The bumps are the “spike proteins.” They are the tools that allow the coronavirus to latch onto human cells and infect them.

Many vaccines trigger an immune response by putting a weakened or inactivated part of the virus into our bodies. Novavax works this way, by introducing harmless fragments of the spike protein into the body.

mRNA vaccines work differently. Instead of injecting fragments of the spike protein, they send messages that teach our cells how to produce harmless pieces of the spike protein themselves.

The immune system recognises that the protein doesn’t belong there, and produces immune cells to fight it off.

Much vaccine hesitancy revolves around the idea that the mRNA jab is re-wiring how your body produces protein.

This is not the case.

“RNA is like snapchat messages that expire” wrote vaccines and immune system scientist Professor Shane Crotty.

“RNA vaccines do NOT become a permanent part of your body. They are temporary messages instructing cells to make one viral protein temporarily.”

Nonetheless, misinformation on the mRNA jabs runs rampant. Health authorities are optimistic that the new approval could sway a portion of those who remain unvaccinated.

“Our dream is to turn 95 per cent (vaccination rate) into 97 or 98 per cent,” TGA boss Professor John Skerritt told reporters.

If the mixed online reaction is any indication, it is too early to tell whether this dream will become a reality.

“This is the Vax my (Mother in Law) was holding out for. Hopefully now she will get vaccinated,” WA user Kelly Robertson posted on facebook.

However, others doubled down on their anti-vaccine sentiment, baselessly deriding the jab as “experiments on humans” or part of “big Pharma’s game.”

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