Enter the Novavaxxers (exit the GPs)

4 minute read

Previously hesitant people are coming forward to get the protein-based jab – and bringing a strange vibe with them.

With the Novavax protein subunit vaccine hitting clinics this week, some practices have been fielding out-of-the-ordinary requests from patients seeking the vaccine.  

For at least one practice, it got weird fast – so much so, it’s getting out of the Novavax game.  

The fourth covid-19 vaccine to gain provisional approval and be added to the rollout, Novavax is given in two doses three weeks apart.  

It is not approved for booster shots or use in paediatric patients, but the US-based company is expected to apply once further trials have been conducted.  

A phase 3 randomised controlled trial in nearly 30,000 adults found the vaccine was 90% protective against symptomatic covid and 100% effective against moderate to severe disease. 

Compared to the mRNA and adenovirus vaccines already in use, the protein-based technology used for Novavax is relatively old.  

Because it’s considered more “tried and true”, some vaccine-hesitant groups said they have been holding out from getting vaccinated until Novavax was available in Australia.  

Anti-vaccine news sites Rebel News and Reignite Democracy Australia have given favourable mention to Novavax in the past.  

TGA boss Professor John Skerritt has said he hopes that the addition of Novavax would bring Australia’s vaccination rate up from 95% to about 97%.  

A northwest Sydney practice manager who wished to remain anonymous was initially keen to be part of the Novavax rollout, but said the practice ended up with more attention than it was bargaining for.  

“We’ve already done a couple of sessions this week, but we had to put a pause on [giving Novavax] because of all the unusual presentations coming to our practice,” he said.  

The patients who are coming in for the protein-based vaccine are not just unvaccinated for covid, they have often bought into conspiracy theories surrounding the pandemic.  

“The majority of them are asking for the process to be filmed or photographed and they’re also highly sceptical that we’ve actually given them the Novavax vaccine,” the practice manager told The Medical Republic.  

“We’ve had some aggressive patients … it’s just become too much of a risk for our teams.” 

Over the course of the vaccine rollout, the clinic has given about 15,000 vaccinations but has not experienced this level of distrust before.  

“We’re now giving [Novavax] with a chaperone in the room, just to ensure there’s nothing untoward that’s going to happen – there’s just been a lot of conspiracy talk,” the practice manager said.  

So far, according to the practice manager, every single patient that has come in for the vaccine has asked to personally sight the vial to ensure they are not receiving AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.  

Because of the extra work involved, the clinic is not taking any new bookings for Novavax and is organising to give its remaining stock to other practices.  

It will still honour existing bookings, albeit with some caution.  

“We don’t judge anyone who’s waited, we just give it,” the practice manager said.  

“But we’ve just had to be a lot more careful, and we’re doing it with a chaperone now – just in case something weird happens.” 

The clinic is now directing patients who ask for Novavax to go to a state-run vaccination hub.  

RACGP Vice President Dr Bruce Willett said that while he wasn’t aware of any other practices having trouble with Novavax patients, the news did not surprise him.  

“GPs and general practice teams [often] take the time to reassure patients about vaccine safety and what is involved,” he told TMR.  

“If seeing the vial will provide reassurance, I’m sure most GPs and nurses would be happy to do so.  

“GPs, practice managers, nurses, receptionists and admin staff have been through a lot during the vaccine rollout and we do not need any more headaches.” 

To patients, he said, “there is no giant conspiracy being wielded against you”.

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