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IOWA CITY — News this week that Americans now have a fourth COVID-19 vaccine option — one closer to more traditional vaccines used to combat flu, for example — came about thanks, in part, to University of Iowa researchers and Iowans willing to take the experimental shot.
As one of Novavax’s phase 3 trial sites, UI Health Care recruited 150 Iowans to receive the vaccine as part of a large multisite study — which found the new vaccine offered protection comparable to other approved vaccines.
Those findings compelled the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week to authorize the Novavax product as its fourth COVID vaccination option for people ages 18 and older.
But where earlier vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna used mRNA technology to generate an immune response — by teaching the human body to recognize the “spike” protein covering the surface of the COVID virus — this new one delivers a premade spike protein itself alongside a compound to stimulate the immune system, according to UIHC officials.
That’s closer to the methodology used for flu shots and childhood immunizations, like whooping cough, although the Novavax vaccine uses a purified protein encased in a lipid nanoparticle, according to UIHC.
“I think this latest vaccine may be particularly helpful for people who are still hesitant to use the newer mRNA vaccines,” UI Carver College of Medicine Executive Dean Patricia Winokur said in a statement. “The Novavax vaccine uses technology that is similar to more traditional vaccines, such as seasonal flu shots.”
Because this new vaccine doesn’t contain the whole virus, it can’t cause COVID.
“We are proud of the role we have played in developing safe and effective vaccines that stop the spread of COVID-19, including the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and now the Novavax vaccine,” Winokur said, referencing other trials and research UIHC has participated in to combat the virus.
Another benefit of the Novavax product — administered in two doses three weeks apart — is that it can be stored in refrigerated temperatures. Other COVID vaccines must be stored in extremely cold conditions, so the Novavax product’s relaxed needs make it more amenable to use in small clinical practices or other countries without the advanced health care infrastructure.
“We are excited to have yet another safe and effective vaccine available to the public in a short period of time,” according to Winokur, who served as principal investigator for the UI trial site for both the Novavax and BioNTech vaccines.
“The rapid development of these lifesaving vaccines is thanks to decades of foundational research by scientists and researchers at academic medical centers like UI Health Care.”
A majority of Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, according to national media reports — although tens of millions haven’t.
The Iowa Department of Public Health is reporting 1.9 million Iowans have completed a COVID vaccine series, and 1.1 million have gotten a booster shot, out of a total population estimated around 3.19 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Since the start of the pandemic, Iowa has reported 810,664 cases of COVID-19 and 9,759 COVID-associated deaths. Iowa in the past week reported 5,301 new cases, down from last week’s 4,187 new cases, and 41 new deaths, up from 15 last week.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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