Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Promising test results from two vaccine developers have addressed some key challenges in the COVID-19 pandemic and could provide a badly needed boost in the race to get ahead of the virus.

Interim data released this week from U.S. drug-makers Novavax and Johnson & Johnson highlighted several critical benefits. The Novavax vaccine was effective against the British and South African variants, while J&J’s offered complete protection against hospitalization and death after one dose. Both vaccines also don’t require super-cold storage and they can be kept in regular refrigerators for months.

The companies are seeking regulatory approval in several countries and they could be in production this spring. Once approved, they will be a welcome addition to the growing arsenal of vaccines already in widespread use from Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna. Canada has been relying on the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines but the federal government has ordered up to 76 million doses of the Novavax vaccine and 38 million of J&J’s.

Story continues below advertisement

The world is grappling with a surge in COVID-19 cases that has overwhelmed hospitals in many countries. Studies have shown that both variants are more contagious than the original version of the virus and that the British variant is more deadly.

Scientists said the J&J vaccine could be a breakthrough for overstretched public health agencies. “For countries looking to stop the pandemic and ease the pressure on the health system this is an unbelievable result and really groundbreaking,” said Saul Faust, a professor of infectious disease at the University of Southampton who worked on the J&J trials.

The J&J vaccine was tested on 43,783 people in eight countries. The overall results showed that the vaccine was 66-per-cent effective in preventing moderate to severe illness. In the U.S. arm of the trial, that number rose to 72 per cent, but it dropped to 57 per cent in South Africa. That’s lower than some of the other vaccines, which offered more than 90-per-cent protection against the older form of the virus after two doses.

Paul Stoffels, J&J’s chief scientific officer, said the most important findings were that the vaccine had 85-per-cent efficacy against severe sickness and provided 100-per-cent protection against hospitalization and death. That was across all countries, both variants and every age group. “What we also see is early onset of protection,” he said. “As of day 14 we see already significant increase in protection against severe disease.”

Dr. Faust cautioned against comparing efficacy percentages among vaccines and noted that protection can vary over time. “I wish from a clinical point of view the world would stop focusing on those, for me, minor differences whether it’s 70 per cent or 90 per cent,” he told a press briefing on Friday. “The key is that they are stopping people going into hospital and stopping death and [the J&J] vaccine does it on one dose.”

The Novavax vaccine, which requires two doses, is the first to show strong efficacy in clinical trials against the British and South African variants. Unlike the three vaccines currently in use, it isn’t based on novel technology and the manufacturing process is relatively simple. The vaccine has been tested on 15,000 people in Britain and 4,400 in South Africa. Interim data showed it was 85.6-per-cent effective against the British variant and 60-per-cent effective against the South African variant.

Paul Heath, director of the vaccine institute at the University of London who led the Novavax trials in Britain, played down concerns about the efficacy against the South African variant. “I’d like it to be 100 per cent, of course, but to be fair and given our concerns, everyone is very pleased that it has come out with a very positive efficacy,” he said during a press conference Friday.

Story continues below advertisement

Scientists acknowledged that there were still concerns. The lower protection rates against the South African variant for both vaccines mean that drug companies will have to be diligent in altering their ingredients to keep up. Dr. Stoffels said J&J was working on a booster shot for its vaccine and Novavax and the other companies have also begun testing new variations.

Taken together, the results offer a glimpse of what may be expected from all three of the vaccine platforms where Canada, among other countries, has placed its bets.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines introduce genetic instructions, called messenger RNA, which trigger the immune system by telling the body to make viral proteins that preview what the real virus will look like. So far, these vaccines have proved highly effective but they are also more expensive, owing to the fragility of the RNA molecules they contain.

The second platform is used by J&J and Oxford-AstraZeneca. It involves injecting a disabled form of another virus, called an adenovirus, to bring in the genetic information to make proteins found in COVID-19. Because the information is encoded as DNA rather than RNA these vaccines are more robust, but they haven’t demonstrated the same high efficacy. In contrast, the Novavax vaccine uses a laboratory-made version of the virus’s spike protein, the area that binds to human cells, and mixes in an adjuvant to boost to the body’s immune system.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the authors of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies