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Moderna says pandemic will end in 2022 but annual boosters needed

Moderna has said it expects the pandemic to end this year but forecast that a seasonal booster shot will be needed in the autumn to protect people from “breakthrough” Covid-19 infections.

The US drugmaker said on Thursday that it is developing a new bivalent booster combining its existing Spikevax Covid-19 vaccine and an Omicron specific booster, which it believes would provide more durable protection against coronavirus variants than its existing jab.

It is also pushing ahead with clinical trials of a combination Covid-19 and flu vaccine and other drug candidates – a move that comes amid investor concerns about future Spikevax sales owing to competition from new vaccines and Covid-19 entering an endemic phase.

“There is no world in which this is a one product company. We said all along this was going to be a zero product company because we fail or it will be a lot – and now we know which one it will be, ”Stéphane Bancel, Moderna chief executive, told the Financial Times.

He said Moderna’s mRNA platform had proved it could bring new drugs to market and forecast the company would continue to generate strong sales of Covid-19 booster jabs, even as the immediate crisis posed by the pandemic eases in the developed world. Covid-19 boosters would likely become an annual event for people over the age of 50 and vulnerable people suffering from underlying conditions, Bancel told the Financial Times in an interview.

He said initial data suggested a new bivalent booster, which combined Spikevax and an Omicron booster, would be the best option for preventing infections this fall. A final decision would be made when clinical data becomes available and health authorities are convinced it is the best strategy.

Bancel said there is an 80 per cent chance that Covid-19 would become endemic in 2022 because of the surge in infections caused by the Omicron variant and increased vaccine uptake.

“We should be in a world where between vaccination, boosting and natural infection and potentially a less virulent virus we might move to an endemic setting where it circulates in the community forever,” Bancel said.

Moderna has begun talking to private sector companies in the US in preparation for the endemic phase of the virus when the government would no longer control Covid-19 vaccine distribution, Bancel said. This would enable Moderna to charge more for its Covid-19 jab, which is currently priced at a discount rate of $ 16.50 in the US.

Moderna’s forecast that people would need a fourth Covid-19 jab in the fall came as the company reported its first annual profit in 2021 thanks to $ 18.5bn sales of Spikevax, which is at the forefront of global vaccination efforts.

The drugmaker has already signed purchase agreements for about $ 19bn in vaccines sales in 2022 with options for an extra $ 3bn. The company reported earnings of $ 11.29 per share for the fourth quarter, beating estimates of $ 9.96 per share.

Moderna shares jumped more than 10 per cent above $ 150 in early trading, compared to a 1.5 per cent fall in the S&P 500. However, the company’s shares have almost halved in value since August as investors assess Moderna’s ability to develop new products and fight off competition from new entrant Covid-19 vaccine producers such as Novavax and Sanofi- GSK.

Bancel said the vaccines developed by Novavax and GSK-Sanofi, which rely on more traditional protein based technology, had not yet been authorized by US authorities and would not supplement mRNA jabs made by Moderna and Pfizer.

“There are two vaccines approved, there is no more pandemic and there is plenty of supply – anyone can get a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine by walking into a pharmacy. So will the FDA use this special part of the law – an emergency use authorization? That will be interesting to observe. ”

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