Canada on Thursday approved the use of Covifenz, the world’s first plant-derived Covid-19 vaccine jointly developed by Medicago Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline Plc. The vaccine has been cleared for people aged 18 to 64 since its safety and effectiveness, according to Health Canada, have not been established in people younger than 18 or older than 64 years of age.
The approval of the plant-derived Covid-19 vaccine could help overcome vaccine hesitancy among many as countries are struggling to raise vaccination rates after a certain threshold.
How is Covifenz different from other Covid vaccines?
Covifenz is made from plant-based proteins that look like coronavirus and uses Glaxo’s adjuvant that contains DL-alpha-tocopherol, squalene, polysorbate 80, phosphate-buffered saline. The other ingredients include potassium phosphate monobasic anhydrous, anhydroussodium chloride, sodium phosphate dibasic anhydrous, and water for injection.
Medicago uses living plants as bioreactors to produce a particle that mimics the target virus. The virus-like particles, or VLPs, are developed through a process of synthesis, infiltration, incubation, harvest, and purification.
The virus code containing genetic instructions which can be ‘read’ by plants are inserted into bacteria that carries the information into the plant’s cells, according to the vaccine maker. During the incubation period, the plants are placed for at least four days in a carefully controlled greenhouse.
“During this period the plants quickly produce large quantities of the most important ingredient in our vaccines: virus-like particles, or VLPs,” says Medicago.
“VLPs are extracted from the leaves of mature plants and then purified to produce the final material that will be used in the creation of our vaccines,” it adds.
Side effects of the vaccine
The possible common but temporary side effects of vaccination include redness, soreness, and swelling at the injection area and general symptoms like chills, fatigue, joint aches, headache, mild fever, muscle aches, nasal congestion, sore throat, cough, nausea and diarrhoea.
Medicago said that a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, is rare post-vaccination with Covifenz. The signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis may include hives, swelling of the lips, face, tongue or airway, difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, loss of consciousness, sudden low blood pressure, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea.