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Israel signs deal to procure 5 million Novavax COVID vaccine doses

‘Alternative’ non-mRNA coronavirus shot still subject to regulatory approval; shipment to arrive in coming months, with option for another 5 million shots

A vial of the Phase 3 Novavax coronavirus vaccine is seen ready for use in the trial at St. George's University hospital in London Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020 (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A vial of the Phase 3 Novavax coronavirus vaccine is seen ready for use in the trial at St. George's University hospital in London Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020 (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Israel on Friday signed an agreement with the US company Novavax to buy five million doses of its COVID-19 vaccines, the Health Ministry said.

The vaccine, which is expected to arrive in Israel in the coming months, is still subject to regulatory approval, the ministry said.

It added that the agreement includes the option for an additional five million doses.

COVID-19 vaccines train the body to recognize the coronavirus by spotting the spike protein that coats it, but the Novavax option is made very differently than the most widely used shots.

It is a protein vaccine, made with an older technology that’s been used for years to produce other kinds of vaccines. The Maryland-based Novavax uses genetic engineering to grow harmless copies of the coronavirus spike protein in insect cells. Scientists extract and purify the protein and then mix in an immune-boosting chemical.

“The vaccine will be another alternative for those who cannot or do not want to be vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine,” the Health Ministry said.

The vaccine requires two doses be administered around three weeks apart.

Phase 3 Novavax coronavirus vaccine trial vaccine volunteer Franklyn Howe is given an injection at St. George’s University hospital in London, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020 (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Novavax says it’s testing how its shots will hold up against the Omicron strain, and like other manufacturers has begun formulating an updated version to better match that variant in case it’s eventually needed.

In December, the World Health Organization gave emergency approval to the Novavax vaccine, paving the way for its inclusion in the UN-backed program to get vaccines to poorer countries around the world.

The European Medicines Agency, the EU’s drug regulator, said that its human medicines committee concluded by consensus “that the data on the vaccine were robust and met the EU criteria for efficacy, safety and quality.”

Last summer, Novavax reported that a study of 30,000 people in the US and Mexico found the vaccine was safe and 90% effective against symptomatic infection from earlier variants, similar to findings from a trial of 15,000 people in Britain. A follow-up study found a booster dose six months after the last shot could rev up virus-fighting antibodies enough to tackle the extra-contagious Delta variant, which at the time was the biggest threat.

The Novavax vaccine was long anticipated to help increase global vaccine supplies, as the shots require only refrigerated storage. But Novavax was delayed for months because of problems lining up large-scale manufacturing.

Novavax has been given emergency use authorization in several countries, and has an application pending with the US Food and Drug Administration.

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