India is the first country to approve the Novavax vaccine for teens, as the world readies for another COVID wave

March 23, 2022, 6:51 AM UTC

India granted emergency approval for the use of Novavax’s COVID vaccine in people ages 12 to 17 on Tuesday, making the country the first in the world to approve the shot for teenagers.

Novavax’s protein-based shot (which stimulates immunity by deploying a noninfectious subunit of the COVID spike protein) is gaining traction among governments, years after the first COVID vaccines were approved. The protein dose gives countries more vaccination options, as COVID cases around the world begin to rise again owing to the spread of the new “stealth Omicron” variant.

The Drugs Controller General of India had earlier granted emergency use authorization to Covovax—the version of Novavax’s vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII)—for adults age 18 and above in December. 

India has approved three other COVID vaccines for teenagers, all from local manufacturers. India expanded its vaccination campaign to those age 12 and above on March 16, after it began vaccinating those age 15 and above in January. 

In a study released last month, Novavax said that its vaccine was 82% effective against infection among teenagers. The study was conducted between May and September of 2021 when the Delta variant was dominant.

Despite receiving U.S. government support through Operation Warp Speed, the Maryland-based Novavax has struggled to get its vaccine to market, as manufacturing issues have reportedly delayed its rollout. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also yet to approve the vaccine for use, after Novavax submitted documentation requesting approval in late January.

Thirty-six countries—including Australia, Canada, South Korea, Singapore, and the 27 members of the European Union—have authorized the use of Novavax’s vaccine, while three countries have approved the version manufactured by SII under a licensing agreement with Novavax. The World Health Organization has also granted emergency authorization to Novavax’s vaccine. 

Novavax’s vaccine gives governments another option to get people vaccinated as the BA.2 COVID subvariant—commonly known as stealth Omicron—spreads around the world. Cases in countries like Germany and South Korea have reached record levels in recent weeks as the more transmissible variant becomes dominant. 

Public health officials have expressed hope that the Novavax vaccine—which uses different technology than the mRNA vaccines from BioNTech and Moderna—might persuade the vaccine-hesitant to finally get their shots.

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