The U.S. has agreed to buy 1.5 million additional doses of Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine as part of preparations for the government’s planned transition from bulk purchases to private market sales.
The agreement, announced Monday by Novavax, will support development of an updated version of the company’s shot in line with the Food and Drug Administration’s plan to annually match COVID vaccines to the most prevalent virus variants. It will also aid the company in developing smaller dose vials, which are less logistically challenging.
Novavax did not disclose the cost of the purchases, which are funded under an existing $1.6 billion contract with the government. Its shot uses a vaccine technology that has long been a mainstay and that the company claims remains an important option for those who cannot or will not take the messenger RNA-based shots from Pfizer and Moderna.
The agreement “acknowledges the need to offer … a diverse COVID-19 vaccine portfolio and underscores the importance of Novavax's partnership with the U.S. government” to provide access to a protein-based vaccine option, Novavax CEO John Jacobs said in a statement.
Uptake of Novavax’s shot has lagged well behind its competitors in the U.S. By the time it was authorized in July 2022, more than three-fourths of adults in the U.S. had already received two doses of another vaccine.
To date, fewer than 80,000 people in the U.S. have received Novavax’s COVID vaccine, which is cleared as a primary two-dose series for those 12 years or older or as a booster for certain adults under emergency use authorization.
Novavax also faced manufacturing issues that hindered its rollout and waning vaccine demand that led it to slash its revenue forecasts last year. More recently, it has struggled to keep up with its competitors’ clinical results.
In November, the company’s disclosed late-stage trial results that showed its bivalent booster failed to raise antibody levels by more than the monovalent version already on the market, demonstrating “no benefit” for the bivalent vaccine, its chief medical officer Filip Dubovsky said at the time.
The modified agreement with the U.S. comes a month after Novavax’s longtime CEO Stanley Erck stepped down, with John Jacobs, former CEO of Harmony Biosciences, stepping into the role.
A Novavax spokesperson pointed to the company’s statement last month about the broad immune response its monovalent vaccine provided in the trial “including against forward drift variants." Several FDA advisory panelists talked about the role its shot can still play in vaccination efforts, said Silvia Taylor, Novavax's chief communications officer, adding the company was "prepared to deliver an updated vaccine following FDA guidance on strain change."
Shares in the company, which had fallen by about 90% over the past year, rose by more than 1% on Monday.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comment from Novavax.