Coronavirus update: Moderna raises vaccine production target; new virus strains cause concern

Moderna (MRNA) has entered the new year on a high, with plans to increase yearly production of its COVID-19 vaccine and optimism about the fate of the company as a result of the pandemic.

In a statement Monday, Moderna said it plans to have 200 million doses for the U.S. by the second quarter, meeting its current commitment for the federal government. The U.S. has an option to purchase an additional 300 million doses per an agreement last year.

But the vaccine is still only being used via an emergency use authorization (EUA), and the company anticipates filing for a full license this year. If achieved, along with increased production of up to 1 billion doses, CEO Stéphane Bancel said it sets the stage for the company to have a multi-billion-dollar revenue line. That translates to avoiding short-term capital raises, Bancel said.

“As I look to the end of 2021, I believe that if we successfully launch the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine as a commercial product, we will emerge from the pandemic crisis as the strongest mRNA company in the world,” Bancel said in a letter to shareholders Monday.

The company is energized about future mRNA products, including pursuing a flu vaccine.

Meanwhile, its COVID-19 vaccine is being studied for the effectiveness of two half doses, compared to two full doses, based on the unprecedented need as the pandemic continues to spur lockdowns and restrictions globally, according to Operation Warp Speed’s Moncef Slaoui.

The comment comes as the U.K. has said it plans to delay second doses in order to use as much of Pfizer (PFE)/BioNTech’s (BNTX) vaccine to initially inoculate as many people as possible.

Illustration by David Foster
Illustration by David Foster

The U.S. has less than 3 million vaccinated, despite a goal of 20 million by the end of December 2020. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the country can and should get to vaccinating 1 million per day soon.

The U.S. has now surpassed 20 million cases and 350,000 deaths from COVID-19, and states are reporting new, more transmissible strains have been detected. Staffing shortages are weighing on U.S. hospitals and health care facilities, exacerbating the response to the pandemic across the country.

Patricia Pittman, George Washington University professor of health policy, told Yahoo Finance the stress on the system is expected.

Illustration by David Foster
Illustration by David Foster

“We were predicting this and it has in fact come to play. We are seeing tremendous strain and shortages across the country,” she said, adding 48 states will be strained, excluding Hawaii and Vermont.

Mid-January is predicted to be the peak of the pandemic for the U.S., especially as travel volume increased around the Christmas and New Year holidays — mimicking the catalyst for early December surges that resulted in record-breaking daily case counts after the Thanksgiving holiday.

The new strains from the U.K. and South Africa are causing concern as various countries have reported surges in cases.

The U.K. is weighing the highest levels of restrictions nationwide, according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Meanwhile, Japan is considering a full lockdown.

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