Like so many of us during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alexis Kulash, 26, was looking for a way to help fight the virus any way she could. One way of doing that? Participate in a COVID vaccine trial — which is exactly what she and her boyfriend did.
“We just wanted to see if there was a possibility to get involved so we could help with research, firstly, but also to see if there was a way to feel safer, especially when New York was such a major epicenter,” Kulash, who lives in Hoboken, NJ, tells Refinery29.
They looked into various vaccination trials and eventually decided they wanted to try a two-shot vaccine, signing up for the Novavax vaccination trial in late December 2020.
“It felt really cool to be involved with something so new and so significant that we were hoping would definitely change what was going to happen around our area, the country, the world as a whole,” she explains. “We weren’t nervous — we were excited.”
On Monday, Novavax, a small U.S. company that received $1.6 billion from the U.S. government during former President Trump’s tenure, released the results of that trial, which showed that its two-shot vaccine is 90.4% effective against the coronavirus. This makes its efficacy rate on par with that of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and slightly better than that of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, The New York Times reports, adding that the Novavax vaccine is 100% effective at “preventing moderate or severe disease.”
Novavax has not sought emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and has said it likely won’t until at least November. Given that there are already three approved vaccines in the U.S., the FDA may not approve Novavax for emergency use, and instead require the company to apply for full approval.
According to the same Times report, the company’s chief executive, Stanley Erck, said the vaccine is likely to acquire initial authorized use in other places around the world, like the U.K., the EU, India, and South Korea.
While Novavax has missed the so-called “first wave” of U.S. vaccines, the release of the company’s trial comes at a time when much of the rest of the world is in desperate need of access to protection from COVID. A December 2020 study published in the journal The BMJ found that “rich countries with only 14% of the world’s population [had already] bought up 52% of the eight most promising vaccines.” Meanwhile, in countries like India, which experienced a spring surge of COVID-19 cases that left hospitals overwhelmed and access to oxygen and other life-saving medical equipment hindered, there are massive vaccine shortages.
“I hope this really changes the game abroad,” Kulash says. “I hope that it’s able to help to stem [the rise of COVID in other countries] and lead to what we’re seeing in the States now, where folks getting vaccinated really reduces the overall spread."
Hopefully, that’s exactly what will happen. In early March, 80 countries, including the U.S., blocked a motion to waive the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement — a rule that protects scientists, researchers, and developers’ intellectual property by way of patents and other legal avenues. But by the end of March, 90% of the nearly 400 million vaccines delivered globally were sent to wealthy and middle-income countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), close to a dozen countries do not have access to COVID-19 vaccinations at all.
On April 21, during a COVID-19 briefing at the White House, President Joe Biden claimed his administration was “looking at what is going to be done with some of the vaccines that we are not using. We’ve got to make sure they are safe to be sent.” Earlier this month, Biden announced the first details of the U.S. sending 80 million vaccines overseas with the goal of "ending the pandemic globally."
While many people worldwide are desperate for a vaccine, some U.S. states have actually had to bribe vaccine-hesitant residents using everything from free tickets to sporting events to free drinks to prepaid $100 debit cards — a lot of effort to convince people to receive a life-saving shot. Kulash's mindset couldn't be further from that of the skeptics. “I think [vaccinations are key] and I think that’s what’s going to keep us [on the path to] transitioning back to some sort of pre-COVID normal," she says. "Whether it was super early on or now, I hope people keep getting vaccinated and take it seriously.”