News Release

The Future of Covid Vaccines as FDA Provides Emergency OK for Novavax


On Wednesday, the FDA granted emergency use authorization to the Novavax vaccine, a two-dose series manufactured using older, protein-based vaccine technology. So far, it is authorized for people 18 and over, “meaning the shot is intended for the roughly 10 percent of adults who have not yet received a Covid-19 vaccine.” Experts hope the shot’s more traditional technology will help persuade ‘vaccine hesitant’ individuals to get vaccinated, providing an alternative to the mRNA vaccines that have dominated the U.S. vaccination program in the past 18 months. The CDC has yet to recommend the vaccine; its expert committee will convene on July 19. 

Gavi, the international vaccine alliance, notes that Novavax has the “additional benefit of being stable at refrigerated temperatures, making it easier to transport and store in low-income settings.” This could make the vaccine a game-changer for low-income countries where the vast majority of the population has yet to receive even a single dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. “Expanding the choice of vaccines,” says a Gavi statement, “particularly those based on an established technology with a good safety record, could also help drive vaccine acceptance.”

In the U.S., the future of other vaccines is in flux as the BA.5 variant overtakes other Omicron variants to become the dominant strain. Eric Topol, who has written that the sub-variant BA.5 is the “worst version of the virus that we’ve seen,” notes that the “big question now is whether an Omicron booster, directed to BA.1, will help when that variant is no longer with us.” Topol’s recent posts have “tried to hammer home the imperative of next-generation vaccines.” 

The FDA has already announced that fall booster shots that will target Omicron variants will include components from BA.4 and BA.5 as well as the original formula of the vaccine. In addition, at the end of June, BioNTech and Pfizer announced they would begin tests of next-generation shots that protect against a variety of coronaviruses. But Topol writes that “frustration keeps mounting as we now confront unsatisfactory deliberations on variant chasing.” 

    Wrigley-Field is a sociologist and demographer specializing in mortality, racial inequality, and historical infectious disease at the University of Minnesota

Wrigley-Field writes that we have squandered “every opportunity that’s not aimed at drug development” during the course of the Covid pandemic. 

Wrigley-Field spoke with the Institute for Public Accuracy, saying that “pandemic mitigation strategies have narrowed to just one––vaccination.” Meanwhile, “we have also narrowed the approach to vaccination itself. Most mass vaccination sites have closed and many community campaigns have ended. Yet booster rates remain quite low, and many people might be willing to get a booster if it were offered in a convenient way. It’s particularly striking that there are almost no avenues, outside of individual conversations with one’s own medical providers, to ask questions or have conversations about vaccination. This highly individualized approach is based on a cynical and incorrect assumption that people who remain unvaccinated or unboosted have made a permanent decision to stay that way. Yet the relatively few community campaigns that continue show that this is wrong––even in 2022, there are still many people who can be reached.”

Wrigley-Field adds: “My recent research (with collaborators) shows that the pandemic remains highly unequal in ways that transcend vaccination rates. In Minnesota––one of the very few places where vaccination data are reported by race/ethnicity and age together––we can see that, at all younger-than-elderly ages, people of color are more likely to be vaccinated than white people are. Yet white people still die of Covid at lower rates than every other racial/ethnic group does. Vaccines protect, but they are not enough. The current context may be a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated,’ but it is very much still a ‘pandemic of the disadvantaged’ as well.”