Novavax vaccine protects against coronavirus in variant hot spots but proved less effective against strain in South Africa

The data, presented by company news release, provides the first highly anticipated evidence of how well a vaccine performs against variants that have drawn global alarm as they spread.

In a United Kingdom trial, where the B.1.1.7 variant has become dominant, the vaccine was 89 percent effective, and about half the infections were with the variant. In a smaller and less definitive South African trial where nearly all the participants were infected with the variant, the vaccine was 49 percent effective, although the company underscored that when looking only at people not infected with HIV, the efficacy was 60 percent.

Laboratory tests had suggested that the immune response elicited by vaccines would be diminished against the variant first identified in South Africa, and the Novavax results bear that out. Novavax is one of the vaccines supported by the American government, including $1.6 billion for clinical development and a pre-purchase of 100 million doses. A large phase 3 trial is ongoing in North America.

“The 60 percent reduced risk against COVID-19 illness in vaccinated individuals in South Africans underscores the value of this vaccine to prevent illness from the highly worrisome variant currently circulating in South Africa, and which is spreading globally,” said Shabir Maddi, executive director of the Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit at Wits University and a principal investigator in the Novavax coronavirus vaccine trial in South Africa.

“This is the first COVID-19 vaccine for which we now have objective evidence that it protects against the variant dominating in South Africa,” Maddi said in a statement.

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