Experts hope fourth COVID vaccine option a ‘gamechanger’ in battling variants

Some are calling it a gamechanger.
Published: Jun. 8, 2022 at 4:42 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 8, 2022 at 8:56 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize a fourth vaccine that could appeal to some skeptics.

Some are calling it a gamechanger.

Novavax’s two-dose vaccine uses conventional technology found in vaccines proven to prevent hepatitis, shingles, and other diseases.

“The protein from the virus is actually provided. And the nice extra effect is that there’s an adjuvant in there and adjuvant is a compound that helps you have a stronger immune response,” Lehrer said.

Dr. Axel Lehrer is associate professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine Department of Tropical Medicine. He uses the same technology in his vaccine research.

He said immunity is typically stronger, longer and broader from protein vaccines, meaning they can be more effective against new variants.

“What we need right now is kind of a variety of different vaccines that work a little bit different in the way how they induce the immunity,” he said.

About 78% of Hawaii residents are fully vaccinated ― a figure that hasn’t changed much over the last few months, despite a surge in cases statewide. Only 40% have been boosted.

He says the challenge with the genetic mRNA vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson is not knowing how strong a person’s immune response will be and how long it will last.

“The mRNA vaccines require boosters quite often, we don’t know what happens after dose four,” he said.

Another benefit: Those who couldn’t get an mRNA vaccine for health reasons have another option.

And shots can be stored in a regular refrigerator, making them more accessible in hard to reach areas.

Lehrer says mixing different vaccine platforms can also boost immunity.

“We will see a lot of folks getting boosters with the protein vaccine, even people that have gotten the mRNA vaccines as their primary vaccinations,” he said.

Kalihi-Palama Health Center Medical Director Dr. Michael Walter hopes having more options will mean reaching the 23% of the population that still is not vaccinated.

“We have seen an increase in people getting their boosters, 50 and over getting their second boosters, we’ve had a bump in that over the last month or so, as cases have gone up,” he said.

He expects the FDA next week to approve the use of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in children six months to four years of age, meaning the shots could be available at the end of this month.

The fourth vaccine also offers an alternative for unvaccinated people who worry mRNA technology is too experimental and claim they alter a person’s DNA.

Meantime, Pfizer and Moderna are working on Omicron variant vaccines. But those aren’t expected for another few months.

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