Novavax's protein-based COVID-19 vaccine received unanimous approval from a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel last week, eyeing as an option to thousands of military members who have refused prior coronavirus vaccines due to religious concerns.
Religious News Service reported that 175 active duty and reserved members had already acquired the new vaccine, and even some traveled abroad on their own dime to obtain it. The new vaccine met the Defense Department requirements for it has the World Health Organization emergency use approval and has been widely used in Europe and other countries. While in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has been reviewing its efficacy data to use it as an adult vaccine.
Novavax claimed that "no human fetal-derived cell lines or tissue" were utilized in the vaccine's development, manufacturing, or production. Unlike the laboratory-grown cell lines which were developed from decades-old fetuses that were utilized in certain early-stage testing of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, as well as to generate viruses for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Mike Berry, director of military affairs for First Liberty Institute said the Novavax vaccine might be an acceptable alternative to some of the 27,000 military personnel who have requested religious exemptions from the mandatory vaccine.
However, he added that many considered abortion as a marginal issue for many people opposed the vaccines in general. According to him, they hinder vaccination because of their stronghold on religious beliefs. He said, "In other words, they believe that God has told them no."
First Protein-based COVID-19 Vaccine
Not just for people who have religious concerns, but Novavax hopes to appeal to people who had concerns about Pfizer and Moderna's mRNA vaccinations, genetically engineered to instruct cells on how to manufacture the S protein located on the COVID-19 virus's surface.
Protein vaccines have been used to prevent diseases such as hepatitis B, shingles, and others for many years. Dr. Michael Nelson of the University of Virginia said the new vaccination does undoubtedly satisfy some unmet needs such as providing a choice for patients who are allergic to competing immunizations.
While Dr. Bruce Gellin of the Rockefeller Foundation agreed that the vaccine has potential, its efficacy on other variants was not yet confirmed. However, Novavax's chief medical officer Dr. Filip Dubovsky said that their tests of a booster dose could combat the omicron mutant.
Religious Exemptions Among Navy
Last year, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered COVID-19 immunizations mandatory, citing the importance of the doses in preserving military readiness and force health. Military authorities also maintained that personnel have been obliged to receive as many as 17 immunizations for decades, especially for those heading overseas.
In one action, First Liberty and the law firm Hacker Stephens LLP represents several Navy sailors, while in another, First Liberty and Schaerr Jaffe LLP represent nine airmen.
Military officials refrained from fully disclosing the substance of any service members' religious exemption requests but did provide certain details on the condition of anonymity. The most common objection raised in waiver requests was the remote connection to fetal cell lines while others argued that they considered their bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Last April, a preliminary injunction barred the US Navy to discipline and discharge marines who objected to the vaccines due to religious grounds. As of this month, more than 1,200 US Navy were discharged for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. While sailors who requested religious accommodations for vaccine rejection may no longer be separated.