The Perfect Enemy | Erie hospitals to offer Novavax COVID-19 vaccine
August 11, 2022
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Erie adults who have resisted getting a COVID-19 shot because of concerns about the types of vaccine available now have another option.

Saint Vincent Hospital and LECOM Health will both offer the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine this week. It was approved in mid-July by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

LECOM will start administering Novavax on Friday at its Center for Health and Aging, 3910 Schaper Ave., while Saint Vincent will offer the vaccine Saturday during the Erie Blues & Jazz Festival at Frontier Park.

In the groove:Who is performing at Erie’s Blues & Jazz Festival? A Grammy winner, acclaimed sax duo, more

UPMC Hamot has received its first shipment of Novavax and was still deciding Wednesday morning how to administer the vaccine, a spokeswoman said.

“This is a different type of vaccine than the (messenger RNA) ones offered by Pfizer and Moderna,” said Steve Henderson, Saint Vincent’s director of pharmacy. “It’s more of a traditional type of vaccine, so it might encourage people who have been hesitant initially about getting vaccinated.”

Novavax, which has been available in other countries since late 2021, was approved for use in the United States in mid-July. It works by injecting copies of the coronavirus’ outer coating — its spike protein — into nanoparticles that the body’s immune system recognizes as a virus.

Studies showed Novavax was nearly as effective against COVID-19 as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in studies held before the omicron subvariants evolved. Side effects are about as mild and common as with mRNA vaccines, and include vaccination-site soreness, headaches, body aches and fatigue.

Official approval:CDC unanimously recommends Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine for adults

“It’s a well-tolerated vaccine, like the others,” said Jim Caputo, LECOM Health’s vaccine coordinator. “It’s a two-dose series of vaccinations, with the second scheduled three weeks after the initial dose. Novavax is not approved as a booster shot, it must be a person’s primary series of vaccine.”

Both LECOM Health and Saint Vincent received initial orders of 100 doses of Novavax. LECOM Health will make all 100 doses available at its vaccination clinic, while Saint Vincent will set aside half of its allotment for second doses, Henderson said.

Additional doses are expected to arrive soon, both Henderson and Caputo said.

“We expect no problems getting more doses of this vaccine,” Henderson said. “We just don’t know what the demand will be.”

Erie sees coronavirus spike in wastewater samples

Erie County’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose slightly last week, but data taken from Erie Wastewater Treatment Plant samples indicate a much larger spike in COVID-19 infections.

The average daily number of COVID-19 cases increased from 55 the week of July 18-24 to 56 the week of July 25-31, according to the Erie County Department of Health.

However, the amount of coronavirus found in wastewater samples taken in late July nearly doubled from the previous sampling and is the highest amount seen since the initial omicron surge in January.

“This is not reflected in the clinical case numbers, indicating few infected people are being officially tested,” said Howard Nadworny, M.D., a Saint Vincent infectious diseases specialist and county health department adviser. “Based on prior variant data reporting, this is all likely due to the BA.5 variant.”

Going up:No summer vacation for COVID-19 as cases, hospitalizations rise in Erie County

More than 75% of the virus found in Erie wastewater samples is BA.5, according to Biobot, the company that tests the samples.

COVID-19 hospitalizations also increased among county residents over the past two weeks, from an average daily number of 20.1 to 28.3, the county health department reported.

At Saint Vincent, many of those patients continue to be people admitted for non-COVID reasons who then test positive for the virus, said Christopher Clark, D.O., Saint Vincent president.

“We are seeing more patients who have illnesses that are secondary infections of the COVID virus, like pneumonia,” Clark said. “It’s not the initial response to COVID, like it was during delta or the original surge. These patients are mostly older and have chronic medical conditions.”

More:Erie physicians see more COVID-19 patients, but they are not as sick

Only 1 COVID-19 death reported in July

Patients also aren’t dying from COVID-19 at the same rate as they were during those earlier surges. The county health department reported just one COVID-19 death in July, which would be the county’s lowest total since March 2020.

Clark said that is due to the number of people with at least some immunity against the virus, either through vaccines or previous infections, and the particular attributes of the BA.5 subvariant.

“It shows how important it is to get vaccinated, especially that second booster,” Clark said. “Studies show it works at preventing hospitalization and death, and our low mortality rate (in July) supports that.”

USA TODAY contributed to this story.

Contact David Bruce at dbruce@timesnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNBruce.