For a virus (SARS-CoV-2) that many scientists and public health officials have maintained originated in a bat and accidently crossed over into humans, leading to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is odd that there does not appear to be much concern about producing vaccines that use genetic material from animals. You would think that this would be especially true for COVID vaccines. But apparently not.1 2 3
Novavax’s new Nuvaxovid vaccine, which recently received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and a unanimous recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is being touted as a good alternative for those who are remain uncertain or perhaps even frightened of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna/NIAID messenger RNA (mRNA) COVID shots, as well as Johnson & Johnson/Janssen’s adenovirus vector COVID vaccine.4 5
Nuvaxovid “offers adults in the United States who have not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine another option that meets the FDA’s rigorous standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization,” FDA commissioner Robert Califf, MD said.6 7
“It’s a traditional vaccine, which a lot of people are more comfortable with. This is a great alternative to the mRNA if that’s what you choose not to get,” said Rich Lakins, vaccination director for the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.8
According to Guy Palmer, DVM, PhD, professor of pathology and infectious diseases at Washington State University, Nuvaxovid may appeal to people who believe that mRNA shots are unsafe because of the newness of technology and the perception that that they could alter human DNA. “There’s a slight open door there for a non-mRNA vaccine like Novavax,” Dr. Palmer said.9
“So for example, with the mRNA vaccines, we’re sort of giving you a message that gets incorporated into your body’s cells and teaches your cells how to build spike protein in its pure form and that’s what our MessengerrNA is,” said Angela Branche, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Rochester.10
Nuvaxovid is different in that it delivers the spike protein directly into the body. That is what is considered to be more traditional rather than experimental.10
Dr. Branche explained:
We make the protein itself, sort of in a lab. We use insect cells actually to make the protein itself, and then the purified protein is what’s given to you. So no genetic message, no genetic codes, no live viruses, just pure protein.10
So… not reprogramming your cells or “rewriting” your “genetic code,” as Moderna’s chief medical officer Tal Zaks, MD, PhD explained in a TED Talk, certainly sounds like a good thing. But what about the “insect cells”?11
Insect Cells Used to Produce Nuvaxovid
In order to produce Nuvaxovid, Moderna uses cells from an insect known as a fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda)—a kind of moth—to grow the spike protein from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The spike protein, which is taken from the genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is what allows the virus to “latch onto and enter human cells.”12 As noted in a recent article in SELF magazine:
The researchers then take this modified spike protein gene and insert it into a baculovirus (a.k.a. an insect virus), per the FDA. That virus is then used to infect insect cells. New spike proteins grow, which are then harvested and used to mimic SARS-CoV-2 to set off an immune response.12
Army Worm Cells First Used for Influenza Vaccine
In January 2013, the FDA approved a license for Protein Sciences’ FluBlok, the first trivalent influenza vaccine made using an insect virus (baculovirus) expression system and recombinant DNA technology. Now a quadrivalent vaccine, FluBlok contains three times as much protein (hemagglutinin) as egg-based seasonal influenza vaccines that have been used for decades to try to control influenza.13
When FluBlok was licensed, the CEO of Protein Sciences, Manon Cox, PhD, was quoted in an article as acknowledging that it took the FDA a long time to license the new insect cell production technology because of safety concerns about residual proteins of non-human origin in FluBlok. Cox said, “All the evidence was that it was safe. There were no signs that our new cell line wasn’t good enough. It’s always very hard to prove a negative.”
No Fear of Insect Viruses Crossing Over Into Humans?
It was not that long ago that the media was widely reporting on the risk of animal viruses jumping to humans. The issue was all the rage in 2020 and 2021 when the bat-in-a-wet-market theory was the predominant explanation for how COVID got started. But is a COVID vaccine using insect viruses and infected insect cells a less worrisome alternative to the mRNA shots that concern a lot of people ?14 15 16
Nuvaxovid Linked to Anaphylaxis, Heart Inflammation
The day after the FDA granted EUA for Nuvaxovid, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) issued a warning of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) as a rare adverse reaction to that vaccine. “Because anaphylaxis can occur with all vaccines and based on these cases, Novavax and the EMA agreed to update the [vaccine’s product] label accordingly,” Novavax said in a statement.5
The EMA plans to place a warning label on the Nuvaxovid vaccine for the risk of anaphylaxis, paraesthesia (tingling, pricking, chilling, burning or numbness of the skin) and hypoaesthesia (decreased feeling or sensitivity in a part of the body, but especially the skin).5
Then there’s also the issue of heart problems associated with Nuvaxovid—just like with the mRNA shots. According to the FDA, the Nuvaxovid Fact Sheet to health care providers who administer the vaccine includes a “warning that clinical trial data provide evidence for increased risks of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of tissue surrounding the heart) following administration” of the Nuvaxovid.6 The Fact Sheet for Recipients and Caregivers…
informs that in most people who have had myocarditis or pericarditis after receiving the vaccine, symptoms began within 10 days following vaccination and that vaccine recipients should seek medical attention right away if they experience any of the following symptoms after vaccination: chest pain, shortness of breath, feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heart.6
Good alternative? Perhaps from a relative standpoint.
If you would like to receive an e-mail notice of the most recent articles published in The Vaccine Reaction each week, click here.
Click here to view References:
1 Hayes P. Here’s how scientists know the coronavirus came from bats and wasn’t created in a lab. Alliance for Science. July 21, 2020.
2 Kunzmann K. WHO, China Report Suggests COVID-19 Passed From Bats to Humans Through Another Animal. Contagion Live Mar. 29, 2021.
3 Zimmer C. Newly Discovered Bat Viruses Give Hints to Covid’s Origins. The New York Times Oct. 14, 2021.
4 Bendix A. CDC recommends Novavax Covid vaccine, triggering rollout of 3.2 million doses. NBC News July 19, 2022.
5 Cáceres M. FDA Grants EUA for Novavax’s COVID Vaccine. The Vaccine Reaction July 24, 2022.
6 News Release. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Emergency Use of Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine, Adjuvanted. U.S. Food and Drug Administration July 13, 2022.
7 Tin A. FDA authorizes Novavax as new alternative to mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. CBS News July 13, 2022.
8 Riley Roche L. Will Novavax be the ‘perfect option’ for those still unvaccinated against COVID-19? Desert News July 20, 2022.
9 Kim Constantino A. Novavax’s new Covid vaccine is perfect for people scared of mRNA tech—but it won’t win over the unvaccinated. CNBC July 15, 2022.
10 Garcia I. New Novavax COVID shot offers new option for those unvaccinated. Rochester First July 21, 2022.
11 TEDx Talks. Rewriting the Genetic Code: A Cancer Cure In the Making | Tal Zaks. YouTube.
12 Miller K. How Does the Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine Work? Here’s How It Differs From the mRNA Options. SELF July 14, 2022.
13 Roos R. FDA approves first flu vaccine grown in insect cells. CIDRAP Jan. 17, 2013.
14 Barath H. The Animal Viruses Most Likely to Jump into Humans. Scientific American July 1, 2021.
15 Johnson CK. Why do viruses jump from animals to humans? Clues to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Royal Society Apr. 8, 2020.
16 Laguipo ABB. How do viruses mutate and jump to humans? News-Medical.Net Apr. 7, 2020.