A new choice for COVID-19 vaccination is available in military clinics as of Monday, the Defense Department announced.
Novavax, a two-dose vaccine that uses different technology and ingredients from previously released inoculations, is now an option for service members. However, service members can only be compelled to take the Food and Drug Administration-approved Pfizer or Moderna products as part of the military’s vaccination mandate.
“Although all vaccines teach our immune system to recognize the spike protein on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Novavax is unique compared to other available COVID-19 vaccines in that it is a protein subunit vaccine,” Air Force Col. Tonya Rans, chief of the Immunization Healthcare Division at the Defense Health Agency, said in the DoD release.
It’s similar to technology used in the shingles and hepatitis B vaccines, the latter of which is required for military service.
Military leadership is hoping that Novavax, which is under an emergency use authorization by the FDA, will present as a viable alternative for troops who are still refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Novavax is not made with, nor tested on, cells from fetal tissue. It also doesn’t use mRNA to deliver the vaccine into cells, another objection cited by those who have declined to get vaccinated, including dozens of troops who have joined lawsuits against the federal government.
The vaccine doesn’t, however, meet another of the criteria that detractors cite: because it’s under EUA, it’s what many anti-vaccine advocates have erroneously dubbed an “experimental” vaccine.
As of Aug. 24, 1,992,507 service members are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with another 30,000 who have received the first of a two-dose regimen. That brings the services, both active and reserve components, to just under 90% at least partially vaccinated.
The largest number of unvaccinated troops remains in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, whose deadlines lapsed at the end of June, more than six months after their counterparts in the other services.
“As soon as [Novavax] was approved, we started ordering that and we’re getting it out to all of our states,” Chief of the National Guard Bureau Army Gen. Dan Hokanson told Military Times earlier this month. “This past weekend [Aug. 6-7] was really the first drill weekend of the month, so over the course of the next couple of days, we hope to hear how successful that’s been.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.