Huge study of another COVID-19 vaccine gets underway

An experimental COVID-19 vaccine made by Novavax is administered to a health volunteer.
An experimental COVID-19 vaccine made by Novavax is administered to a health volunteer.

A huge study of another COVID-19 vaccine candidate is getting underway Monday as states in the U.S. continue to roll out scarce supplies of the nation’s first shot options.

The U.S. has authorized emergency use of two vaccines — one made by Pfizer and BioNTech and the other by Moderna — but doses will be rationed for months.

The experimental vaccine made by Novavax Inc. of Gaithersburg, Md., is the fifth to reach final-stage testing in the U.S. Some 30,000 volunteers are needed to assess whether this vaccine — a different kind than its Pfizer and Moderna competitors — is safe and effective.


“If you want to have enough vaccine to vaccinate all the people in the U.S. who you’d like to vaccinate — up to 85% or more of the population — you’re going to need more than two companies,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert.

The question of how many people must be vaccinated to reach herd immunity against COVID-19 is of crucial importance. Experts say the number is probably higher than previously thought.

Dec. 26, 2020

The study, which is funded by the U.S. government, is open to all adults but will focus on high-risk older adults and volunteers from Black and Latinx communities who have been hard-hit by the virus. Researchers hope that at least 25% of study participants will be 65 or older.

Two-thirds of volunteers will receive the vaccine, and the rest will get placebo shots. Trial participants will receive two injections, administered 21 days apart, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The Novavax candidate uses harmless, lab-grown copies of the coronavirus’ spike protein to train the immune system to recognize the real virus if it comes along.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines instead use a newer technology, injecting the genetic code for that protein.

In the U.S., Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca also have vaccine candidates in late-stage testing.