Protein-based vaccines are a well-established technology. The safety and efficacy of protein-based vaccines have been very well researched and field tested for many years. Protein-based vaccines are already used against diseases such as hepatitis, whooping cough, shingles and flu.
In protein-based vaccines, selected, harmless proteins from a target pathogen are injected into the body. This teaches the immune system to recognise the pathogen. Proteins from the surface of the pathogen are particularly suited to this as they can be well recognised by the body’s immune system.
If a vaccinated person subsequently comes into contact with the real pathogen, the antibodies can bind themselves to the recognised protein and therefore prevent the spread of the pathogen in the body. If the body is still infected with the pathogen, the immune system will remember how to quickly fight it. This means that the person will not get sick or will only have mild symptoms.
The protein components contained in the vaccine cannot multiply or cause disease. In order to ensure the protein particles trigger a sufficient immune response, many protein-based vaccines contain adjuvants, which make them work better. Adjuvants increase the immune response and thus help the immune system remember the protein particles. Depending on the vaccine, different adjuvants are used.
The COVID-19 vaccine from Novavax is a protein-based vaccine. It contains part of the coronavirus spike protein and a saponin-based adjuvant.