A New COVID-19 Vaccine: How Novavax Works

There are now four COVID-19 vaccines available for the public to choose from. The CDC recently approved Novavax as an option for adults in the U.S.

Sep. 6, 2022 4   min read

There is now a fourth available COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. The CDC issued emergency use authorization for the Novavax vaccine in late July.

The Novavax vaccine is different from other previously available COVID-19 vaccines by providing similar protection against severe illness, hospitalization, and death, but using a manufacturing process that is closer to more traditional methods of vaccine manufacturing – such as the hepatitis B and shingles vaccines.

Michael Pichichero, MD, is Pediatric Infectious Disease and Immunology specialist with Rochester Regional Health and explains how the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine was developed, its effectiveness, and why people should consider getting it.

How Novavax’s COVID vaccine works

The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine is administered in two doses, given to an individual three to eight weeks apart.

This vaccine uses two key ingredients that help the body defend against the novel coronavirus: the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and a Matrix-M adjuvant.

The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is created in a lab using insect cells. The protein causes the body’s immune system to respond and protect the vaccinated person from getting sick with COVID-19 in the future. No live part of the COVID-19 virus is used to make the Novavax vaccine.

An adjuvant is an ingredient added to a vaccine that helps strengthen a person’s immune response to a specific virus. The adjuvant in the Novavax vaccine is drawn from extracts from the bark of a Soapbark tree, which is native to Chile.

“Other vaccines are made this way and help protect millions of people against infectious diseases,” Dr. Pichichero said. “These vaccines are currently being used around the world with great success.”

A full list of the vaccine’s ingredients is available for reading on the CDC’s website.


The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine is reported to be 90.4 percent effective in preventing mild, moderate or severe illness, according to the FDA.

This falls roughly in the same efficacy range as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, which had effectiveness rates of 95 and 94 percent, respectively.

Side effects

Data from the clinical trials shows side effects of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine are mild and very similar to other COVID-19 vaccines

These include:

  • Pain in injection site
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever

Most side effects in clinical trials occurred after the second dose was administered.

“There have been some cases of myocarditis and pericarditis reported in people who received the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine,” Dr. Pichichero said. “While those instances are very rare overall, people experiencing side effects should contact their primary care provider.”

Who can receive a dose?

Currently the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for adults ages 18 and older. The FDA authorized the vaccine for ages 12-17, but the CDC has not yet signed off on the authorization.

Novavax submitted an application to the FDA in August, requesting that the vaccine be approved for use as a booster dose in adults. That process usually takes several weeks of careful review and discussion.

Where can I find it?

More than three million doses of the Novavax vaccine were acquired for distribution throughout the U.S. by the Biden administration.

There are a limited number of doses of the Novavax vaccine and not all health care providers are expected to carry it, according to the CDC. Rochester Regional Health is not currently offering the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine.

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