Atlanta woman who helped test Novavax COVID-19 vaccine hopes it will draw vaccine-hesitant

Dre Pearson is proud of her new CDC COVID-19 vaccination card.

The 39-year-old research assistant could not get one until the US Food and Drug Administration authorized the Novavax vaccine she helped test in a clinical trial at Morehouse School of Medicine.

Pearson got her first shot outdoors in the middle of a surge in January 2021, just as the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines were being rolled out, and only health care workers were eligible to receive them.

"It was really that, it's what was available to me at the time, and I just wanted to get vaccinated," Pearson remembers.

The FDA granted an emergency use authorization for the vaccine to be used in adults 18 and older as an initial two-dose series.

It has not been authorized as a booster, although the company plans to pursue that down the road.

She received 3 doses of Novavax protein-based vaccine that uses an older platform to help the immune system recognize the spike protein on the surface of the virus and mount a defense against it.

"I think it definitely gives an option to folks who might be concerned about receiving an mRNA vaccine," Pearson says.  "This is a more traditional vaccine, and, in my limited opinion, it's worked well for me."

Novavax is the fourth vaccine to get emergency authorization from the FDA, arriving on the US market more than 2 years into the pandemic.  

But, because it uses a more known technology, Pearson says, it may be an option for the 28 million Americans who have not received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

"I'm definitely going to pitch it to my family members, who are vaccine-hestitant, because it's a more typical vaccine route," she says.

In the clinical trial, Novavax was 90% effective at preventing symptomatic infection, and nearly 100% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19.

But the study was conducted before the highly-contagious Omicron variants arrived.

Dre Pearson's 4-year-old daughter Astrid was also part of a clinical trial for the Pfizer under-5 vaccine.

Mother and daughter, both now more than six months out from their last doses,  recently caught the virus.

"It was miserable," Pearson says.  "I definitely had a fever and I lost my taste and smell, and I had a cough. But I was only, I only felt ill for about 48 hours. I definitely was grateful to have been vaccinated because I feel like, if I hadn't been, I might have been one of those unlucky folks that ended up in the hospital."

Dre Pearson will soon be part of another trial, to track her recovery from COVID-19.