Europe's vaccine sceptics offered Novavax doses to overcome fears

Protein-based product is lined up for health workers and the unvaccinated after social media backlash

The Novavax vaccine showed an efficacy rate of about 90 per cent in trials. Getty
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Health ministers in Europe are hoping to win over vaccine sceptics with the recently approved Novavax shot, which uses more traditional methods than some of its rivals which have suffered from virulent disinformation campaigns.

The product was approved last month by the European Medicines Agency after two separate trials showed efficacy rates of about 90 per cent.

Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots, it does not use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology but works by exposing the body to a version of the spike protein found on the surface of the coronavirus.

Although mRNA vaccines have proved safe and spectacularly successful in preventing serious illness, the technology is relatively new, and is subject to false claims and conspiracy theories that it changes people’s genetics.

Such doubts have stalled the rate of vaccination in Europe and frustrated EU leaders, who have taken various steps to increase the pressure on those who remain unvaccinated. About a quarter of the bloc’s population is unprotected.

A summit of state health ministers in Germany said unvaccinated health workers should be first in line for Novavax when the first of 3.8 million expected doses arrive in February.

The shipment to Germany is a part of the US drug maker's deal to supply up to 200 million doses to the EU’s 27 member states.

A government-commissioned poll in Germany last year showed 51 per cent of unvaccinated people citing the available technologies, including mRNA, as one of their reasons for rejecting a shot.

Sepp Mueller, a German MP from the opposition Christian Democrats, said he hoped that Novavax could reduce the need for compulsory vaccinations being debated by parliament.

He said the same could be true of the Valneva vaccine, which uses an inactivated virus and showed promising results in trials.

“With newly-approved vaccines — a protein vaccine that will be delivered in the coming weeks, and an inactivated vaccine that is on its way — we can reach these people and close the vaccination gap,” he said.

Early data showed the Novavax product was effective in generating an immune response against the more infectious Omicron variant.

A customer has his vaccine pass checked on the terrace of a restaurant in Nice, France. Reuters

In Austria, which last week brought in compulsory vaccinations, a website went live on Thursday for the unvaccinated in one state to register their interest in Novavax, following similar moves in other parts of the country.

“This way we can make an offer to protect concerned people from serious illness,” said Christine Haberlander, deputy leader of the state of Upper Austria.

Some had “delayed and waited for another vaccine technology, despite the safety of the vaccines used billions of times,” she said.

Gerd Kurath, a spokesman for the state government in Carinthia, said authorities in the region had ordered thousands of Novavax doses from ministers in Vienna.

Meanwhile, Dutch Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said the Netherlands was looking at ways for people to express a preference for Novavax.

The European Commission said on Thursday that tech companies such as Google and TikTok had stepped up their efforts to combat misinformation, but that there was “still margin for improvement”.

Commissioner Vera Jourova said the companies should move to “tackle the existing weaknesses, including by treating all languages in a rigorous way”.

TikTok said it had added information about vaccines to 266,000 posts in December, compared with 90,000 in October.

Novavax is not the first non-mRNA vaccine used in the EU. The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson shots use modified viruses.

Updated: January 27, 2022, 3:06 PM
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