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Understanding Protein Subunit COVID-19 Vaccines

July 26, 2022

The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine is a protein subunit COVID-19 vaccine that is authorized for use in the United States under Emergency Use Authorization. Learn more about Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, including who can get it, doses, and ingredients.

How Protein Subunit COVID-19 Vaccines Work

Protein subunit vaccines contain pieces (proteins) of the virus that causes COVID-19. These virus pieces are the spike protein. The vaccine also contains another ingredient called an adjuvant that helps the immune system respond to that spike protein in the future. Once the immune system knows how to respond to the spike protein, the immune system will be able to respond quickly to the actual virus spike protein and protect you against COVID-19.

  1. First, protein subunit COVID-19 vaccines are given in the upper arm muscle. After vaccination, nearby cells pick up these proteins.
  2. Next, our immune system recognizes that these proteins do not belong there. Another ingredient in the vaccine, the adjuvant, helps our immune system to produce antibodies and activate other immune cells to fight off what it thinks is an infection. This is what your body might do if you got sick with COVID-19.
  3. At the end of the process, our bodies have learned how to help protect against future infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. The benefit is that people get this protection from a vaccine, without ever having to risk the potentially serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19. Many side effects from getting the vaccine are normal signs the body is building protection.

Facts About Protein Subunit COVID-19 Vaccines

Protein subunit COVID-19 vaccines cannot cause COVID-19 or other illnesses.

  • Protein subunit COVID-19 vaccines do not use any live virus.
  • Protein subunit COVID-19 vaccines cannot cause infection with the virus that causes COVID-19 or other viruses.

They do not affect or interact with our DNA.

  • The protein pieces do not enter the nucleus of the cell where our DNA (genetic material) is located, so they cannot change or influence our genes.

Protein Subunit COVID-19 Vaccines Have Been Rigorously Evaluated for Safety

COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

Protein subunit COVID-19 vaccines have been held to the same rigorous safety and effectiveness standards as all other types of vaccines in the United States. The only COVID-19 vaccines the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes available for use in the United States (by approval or emergency use authorization) are those that meet these standards.

Protein Subunit Vaccines Have Been Used for Years

More than 30 years ago, a hepatitis B vaccine became the first protein subunit vaccine to be approved for use in people in the United States. Another example of other protein subunit vaccines used in the United States today include acellular pertussis (whooping cough) vaccines.

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COVID-19 After Vaccination: Possible Breakthrough Infection

July 12, 2022

COVID-19 vaccines help protect against severe illness, hospitalization and death. COVID-19 vaccines also help protect against infection. People who are vaccinated may still get COVID-19. When people who have been vaccinated get COVID-19, they are much less likely to experience severe symptoms than people who are unvaccinated.

To get the best protection against COVID-19, especially against severe illness and hospitalization, stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines.

When someone who is vaccinated with either a primary series or a primary series plus a booster dose gets infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, it is referred to as a “vaccine breakthrough infection.”

When people who are vaccinated get COVID-19 get a breakthrough infection, they are much less likely to experience severe symptoms than people who are unvaccinated.

People who get vaccine breakthrough infections can spread COVID-19 to other people. When a community reports more COVID-19 infections, that means more virus is circulating. When more virus is circulating, more breakthrough infections will occur even when vaccination rates are high. Even if you are vaccinated, if you live in a county with a high COVID-19 Community Level, you and others in your community, whether vaccinated or not, should take more steps to protect yourself and others, like wearing a mask in indoor public places.

CDC monitors reported vaccine breakthrough infections to better understand patterns of COVID-19 among people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated. The latest rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths by vaccination status are available on the CDC COVID Data Tracker.

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Visiting Older Adults in Residential Communities

July 1, 2022

Residential communities for older adults may combine nursing, assisted living, and independent living lifestyles. Each community may face different risks and decide to put in place less restrictive or more restrictive protocols.

To help protect friends and family members who live in these communities, get vaccinated. CDC has also issued updated recommendations for visitations at post-acute facilities. These recommendations align with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)external iconexternal icon guidance for visitations under various circumstances.

Learn more about the risks among people who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities and about CDC’s guidance for preventing the spread COVID-19 infection in nursing homes.

There is no way to ensure you have zero risk of getting the virus that causes COVID-19.  So, it is important to understand the risks and know how to reduce your risk as much as possible if or when you do resume some activitiesrun errands, and attend events and gatherings.

While it is generally safest to implement universal use of source control for everyone in a healthcare setting, the following allowances could be considered for individuals who are up to date with all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses (who do not otherwise meet the criteria described above) in healthcare facilities located in counties with low to moderate community transmission. These individuals might choose to continue using source control if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease, or if someone in their household is not up to date with all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses.

  • HCP who are up to date with all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses:
    • Could choose not to wear source control or physically distance when they are in well-defined areas that are restricted from patient access (e.g., staff meeting rooms, kitchen).
      • They should wear source control when they are in areas of the healthcare facility where they could encounter patients (e.g., hospital cafeteria, common halls/corridors).
  • Patient Visitation:
    • Indoor visitation (in single-person rooms; in multi-person rooms, when roommates are not present; or in designated visitation areas when others are not present): The safest practice is for patients and visitors to wear source control and physically distance, particularly if either of them are at risk for severe disease or are unvaccinated.
      • If the patient and all their visitor(s) are up to date with all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses, they can choose not to wear source control and to have physical contact.
      • Visitors should wear source control when around other residents or HCP, regardless of vaccination status.
    • Outdoor Visitation: Patients and their visitors should follow the source control and physical distancing recommendations for outdoor settings described on the page addressing Your Guide to Masks.
  • Residents who are up to date with all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses in Nursing Homes in Areas of Low to Moderate Transmission:
    • Nursing homes are healthcare settings, but they also serve as a home for long-stay residents and quality of life should be balanced with risks for transmission. In light of this, consideration could be given to allowing residents who are up to date with all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses to not use source control when in communal areas of the facility; however, residents at increased risk for severe disease should still consider continuing to practice physical distancing and use of source control

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