Learn More About the New 2-Dose, Plant-Based COVID Vaccine — Is It Effective?

The world's first plant-based COVID vaccine, developed by Quebec company, Medicago, is hoping for Canadian approval by the end of 2021. During Phase 3 clinical trials, the shot showed a high efficacy rate against COVID infection — 71 percent against all variants and 75.3 percent against Delta when enhanced by GlaxoSmithKline's booster. The trials occurred before Omnicron was discovered, so the efficacy against that variant is unknown.

What Is the Plant-Based COVID Vaccine Made From?

According to Nature, this new two-dose, plant-based COVID vaccine is made by inserting a genetic code into a bacteria. Then a close relative of the tobacco plant (Nicotiana benthamiana) is soaked in the modified bacteria, and the code teaches the plant to make a protein which is then used in the vaccine. This new vaccine also contains an additive known as adjuvant to help boost the immune response.

The plant-derived virus-like particles mimic the structure of the coronavirus, so they can be easily recognized by the immune system. But don't contain any genetic material, so those who are ethically against vaccines derived from animals will feel more comfortable with this vaccine. While the COVID vaccines available now don't contain any animal-derived ingredients, animal-derived ingredients may have been used during their development. Those COVID vaccines, however, like most vaccines and medications, were tested on animals.

Does the Plant-Based COVID Vaccine Work?

Of the 24,000 trial participants, there was a 71 to 75 percent efficacy rate; for comparison, the Pfizer COVID vaccine has a 94 percent efficacy rate. Also, those given Medicago's plant-based vaccine reported no severe cases of COVID-19, and had 10 times as many antibodies as those who had previously caught COVID-19. Another bonus is that Medicago said there were no serious side effects experienced.

If this vaccine is approved by Canada Health, it'll be the first plant-based COVID vaccine using virus-like particle technology ever approved for human use. It also takes much less time and money to make this plant-based vaccine — five to six weeks compared to four to six months for the other COVID vaccines. This would help bring vaccines to more people in the world.

Will the Plant-Based Vaccine Be Available in the US?

Right now the plant-based vaccine is only up for approval use in Canada. We're not sure yet if it would be available in the US or other parts of the world.