America is skeptical of the ‘dark horse’ COVID vaccine that others abroad can’t get enough of

Nearly 225 million Americans are considered fully COVID-vaccinated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meaning they have received two or more doses of a vaccine.

The number who have been fully vaccinated with Novavax, the latest vaccine to receive approval from US health authorities: just 6,278.

The traditional protein-based vaccine, approved by US health officials in July, was intended to win the hearts and minds of Americans who were hesitant to receive the mRNA COVID vaccines Pfizer and Moderna argued that the technology was too new to be considered sure.

“For those waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine built on a different technology, now is the time to get vaccinated,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky this summer.

But for the 20% of Americans who remain unvaccinated, hesitancy over the safety of mRNA vaccine technology was likely just an excuse, experts say, as Novavax was formulated using the same technology as the flu vaccine — and uptake remains dismal.

As hesitant as Americans are about Novavax, for whatever reason, the situation is the opposite elsewhere. The vaccine has been approved in 38 other countries, including Australia, France, Ireland, Italy, Korea and Britain, according to the World Health Organization. And Japan and Australia have approved the vaccine for use as a booster dose, according to Journal of the American Medical Association.

“It has been attractive for a long time,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at the University of California, Berekely’s School of Public Health. Assets, adding that the production problems delayed its American debut.

“What excited some people about it is the fact that it is very similar to many vaccines produced in the past,” Swartzberg said. “Protein vaccines have been used for decades. For some people, it gives them a level of comfort, based on emotion and not science.”

Novavax has the potential to offer longer and broader protection than current mRNA vaccines, Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), Assets.

But more data on the vaccine are needed to determine the length of protection it offers, as well as its performance against Omicron subvariants.

“I think it could be a better vaccine,” Osterholm said, although he cautioned that in the early days of mRNA COVID vaccines, the community had “unbridled expectations that ultimately didn’t pan out,” such as the vaccines, that prevents infection.

Like mRNA vaccines, Novavax protects against serious COVID outcomes such as hospitalization and death. But it does not prevent infection or transmission, according to Yale Medicine.

Maryland-based Novavax began developing its COVID vaccine in 2020 under Operation Warp Speed, but manufacturing difficulties slowed progress. Countries began granting vaccine approval in November.

In the United States, the two-dose shot series is approved for those 12 years of age and older, with shots three to eight weeks apart. Side effects are similar to mRNA COVID vaccines and include tenderness, pain and/or swelling at the injection site, fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, headache, nausea, vomiting and/or fever, according to Yale Medicine. As is the case with mRNA COVID vaccines, myocarditis – a rare form of heart inflammation – has been reported, but rarely.

Dr. Bali Pulendran, professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University, said Assets he is not sure why the US has not yet approved Novavax for use as a booster, giving those who received a two-dose mRNA series another option, apart from recently approved Omicron mRNA vaccines.

The US Food and Drug Administration did not immediately respond Fortunes questions about why the US has not approved the vaccine for use as a booster, even though other countries have.

“It’s a great vaccine and I hope people get access to it if they want it,” Pulendran said.

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