The Perfect Enemy | Navy Ready to Distribute Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine
August 11, 2022
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Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Gregzon Fontanilla, from Guam, prepares a COVID-19 vaccine aboard the America-class amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LHA-7) on May 10, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Navy will now have doses of the Novavax vaccine available for sailors. Novavax is the latest company to receive emergency use authorization from the FDA for its vaccine to prevent COVID-19 now an option for active duty troops, who have not yet gotten vaccinated.

Unlike the vaccines produced by Pfizer or Moderna, which use mRNA, the Novavax shot uses a SARS-CoV-2 recombinant spike protein to produce an autoimmune reaction in order to protect against further infection. The Novavax shot is more traditional and similar to other vaccines against disease like tetanus or HPV.

Some Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials told The Associated Press that the traditional method for the Novavax vaccine might sway the unvaccinated population who have been hesitant to use the mRNA vaccines.

“If you have been waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine built on a different technology than those previously available, now is the time to join the millions of Americans who have been vaccinated,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

But others say that the new shot won’t sway people who are unvaccinated to get the jab, according to a CNBC report.

It is unclear how the new vaccine will play out with sailors and Marines. As of July 27, there are 3,147 active-duty sailors and 3,432 reservists who are not fully vaccinated, according to the Navy’s monthly COVID-19 update.

There are 4 percent of active-duty Marines and 6 percent of reservists who are not fully vaccinated, according to the service’s monthly COVID-19 updates.

Each service has received thousands of requests to receive a waiver from the vaccine, citing religion, with some specific examples being the vaccine uses stem cell research or that because the Pfizer and Moderna variations used mRNA, it would alter their cells and their bodies, according to one lawsuit, involving a Navy surface warfare commanding officer.

The Novavax vaccine would theoretically be an option that does not violate these concerns because it does not use the same technology. However, the armed forces cannot make unvaccinated service members take the Novavax vaccine because it is currently under emergency use authorization, and federal laws prohibit the military from forcing an EUA vaccine on personnel unless the president signs a waiver.

Emergency use authorization, which is not the same as full authorization, allows medical professionals to give the vaccine without full FDA approval during a crisis. The FDA can grant EUA after reviewing the vaccine and trial data.

The FDA also gave EUA to the vaccines produced by Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen. Pfizer and Moderna have also gotten full FDA approval for use in adults, but the vaccine formulas for kids remains at EUA. The military is able to mandate the troops receive the COVID-19 vaccine because there are two options that have full FDA approval, although service members can receive a EUA vaccine if they would rather.

Lawsuits on behalf of service members have made unverified claims that the military is giving out the EUA version of Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, not the FDA-approved one.

This argument was cited in a board hearing for Navy Lt. Bill Moseley, who was retained after he fought the service over the vaccine, USNI News previously reported.

Moseley’s attorney, in a statement, said that he was able to prove that the Navy was not giving out the FDA approved version of the Pfizer vaccine.

Like many pieces of disinformation, there is a kernel of truth on which people latch, said Dorit Reiss, professor at University California Hastings Law.

The EUA version of Pfizer’s vaccine and the FDA approved one can be used interchangeably, according to the FDA.

When the vaccine first received FDA licensure, there were still EUA shots being given out because no one wanted to throw away good vaccine doses, Reiss said.

“Even if the specific bottle is still the EUA, the approval should be enough to allow the military [to require it]. It doesn’t make sense to require the company or the military to throw away non expired vials just because they have a different sticker, if the product has been licensed,” Reiss said.

Pfizer did slightly change its formula after receiving licensure and received a second license, she said, although the change did not affect the active ingredient. The second license does not cancel the original one, Reiss said.