A limited supply of the updated Novavax vaccine is rolling out in Alberta this week with appointment booking starting Wednesday and shots going into arms as of Friday.
Alberta Health said it has approximately 5,000 doses of the Novavax XBB.1.5 vaccine in stock.
The latest version of the protein-based vaccine was approved by Health Canada in early December.
According to the province, Albertans 12 and up are eligible and it is available to people who cannot take an mRNA vaccine for medical reasons and to those who refuse mRNA formulations.
People who have already received an updated (XBB) mRNA vaccine are not eligible, and the immunizations will not be available at community pharmacies or medical clinics.
“Because of the limited demand and supply of the product, Novavax vaccines will only be available at limited locations across the province,” a spokesperson for Alberta Health said in an emailed statement.
“Albertans will be required to call Health Link at 811 to book an appointment at select AHS public health centres across Alberta. Appointments are being booked to limit vaccine waste.”
Bookings begin Wednesday with appointments starting on Friday.
“This is an important tool for people who may either be hesitant about the mRNA vaccines or we have to recognize that there are people out there who for whatever reason — perhaps an allergy — can’t receive the other formulation,” said Craig Jenne, a professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary.
“This creates an avenue where these people now have access to an updated vaccine for the coronavirus.”
Given the low uptake of the earlier version of Novavax, Jenne doesn’t expect a rush on appointments.
“Very, very few Albertans opted to take them. So I don’t think this is going to solve a vaccine hesitancy or a vaccine fatigue problem but will likely be a critical tool for those small number of Albertans that may have a medical reason why they can’t receive the mRNA vaccine.”
The Alberta Health website says mRNA vaccines are still the recommended option for most people.
“The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) currently recommends the mRNA vaccines as the preferred COVID-19 vaccine products,” it states, adding the Novavax XBB.1.5 vaccine is the only non-mRNA COVID-19 vaccine available to Canadians 12 and up.
“We will have to see what this specific formulation does head to head. But in general, the mRNA vaccines have been better. NACI continues to recommend those vaccines,” said Jenne.
The Novavax shots have not been as widely used as the mRNA formulations, according to Dr. Daniel Gregson, a Calgary-based infectious diseases specialist.
But he said they could be an option for those who are not keeping up with their COVID-19 shots due to side-effects.
“The side-effect profile with the Novavax vaccine may be different from what you had with the mRNA vaccine,” said Gregson, an associate professor in the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary.
“So if you’re off work for a day or two with your vaccine because of fatigue and fevers — and you’re avoiding getting boosted because of those side-effects — then perhaps Novavax would be a good choice for you. Certainly if you’ve had an allergic response to the mRNA vaccine, Novavax would be a reasonable option moving forward.”
Given the level of community transmission in Alberta currently, Gregson said staying updated on COVID-19 vaccinations is key.
“If you haven’t had a boost certainly within the last six months to a year, it really is time to get a boost,” he said.
“The evidence is fairly strong that the current vaccines are effective in preventing severe disease and, in some cases, preventing infection altogether.”
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