The Covid-19 vaccine developed by Novavax has been approved by the UK regulator for use in people over the age of 18.
The vaccine will not be immediately widely available as its use as part of the UK’s vaccination programme will be considered by the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
Clinical trials suggest two doses of the Novavax jab have an efficacy of about 90% against symptomatic Covid, similar to the other approved UK vaccines. A recent study by Novavax suggests its protection holds up much better against Omicron than most other vaccines, raising the prospect that it may be able to provide broader protection across variants in future.
June Raine, the chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said: “Our approval of Nuvaxovid today follows a rigorous review of the safety, quality and effectiveness of this vaccine, and expert advice from the government’s independent scientific advisory body, the Commission on Human Medicines.”
The decision is expected to address travel issues for Britons who took part in trials of the Novavax vaccine, initially leaving them ineligible to travel to certain countries because the vaccine had not been approved by the UK regulator. The government announced in October the thousands of UK trial participants would be offered the Pfizer/BioNTech jab; the latest decision should resolve the situation for those who did not take up the offer.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said: “It is great to see our world-renowned medicines regulator approve another Covid-19 vaccine. I want the UK to be the best place in the world to conduct clinical trials. It’s a testament to the country’s first-rate research and development capabilities for vaccines – with tens of thousands of people taking part in clinical trials here in the UK, contributing to the invaluable research that shows our vaccines are safe and effective.”
Novavax’s offering is a protein-based vaccine that uses more established technology than some others, similar to the flu jab and routine childhood vaccines against whooping cough or meningococcal infection. There is early evidence that it could have reduced side-effects, with trial data appearing to show lower rates of fatigue, headaches and muscle pain.
Public health experts hope that these factors could convince as yet unvaccinated people who are sceptical of new technology or worried about side-effects from other vaccines to get a shot.
Prof Sir Munir Pirmohamed, the chair of the independent Commission on Human Medicines, said: “Nuvaxovid is distinct from other Covid-19 vaccines currently in use in the UK as it uses recombinant protein-based technology which has been used for many years in the development of vaccines to prevent other illnesses, for example hepatitis B.”