Good Isn't Good Enough: Moderna Continues Efforts to Improve COVID-19 Vaccine

Moderna_Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Moderna, one of three companies to have a COVID-19 vaccine authorized in the U.S., isn’t resting on its accomplishments but is instead working to scale up production further and improve on its vaccine.

One of the downsides of the vaccine initially was its cold-storage requirements. It is approved for storage at between 36 and 46 degrees F for up to 30 days and up to seven months at -4 F. Although that places some demands and limitations on healthcare providers, it’s a bit more manageable than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires storage at about -94 degree F, which requires specialized freezers.

However, Moderna has indicated it is working on new formulations that could extend the refrigerated shelf life. New data from the company also supports the vaccine could be refrigerated safely for three months. 

In its press statement, Moderna noted that if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the new storage protocols, it could “facilitate easier distribution to doctor’s offices and other smaller settings.”

Moderna’s president, Stephen Hoge, said, “That might be a breakthrough that really matters in 2022 in Africa and across lower- and middle-income countries.”

The company is also working on combining the COVID-19 vaccine with a seasonal flu vaccine.

“In the same single shot, you get a high efficacy flu vaccine, the appropriate virus variant for that given year, and you walk into your CVS or go to your [general practitioner], you get one dose and you’re all set for flu and for COVID,” Moderna’s chief executive officer, Stephane Bancel, told Fortune editor-in-chief Clifton Leaf at Fortune’s 2021 virtual Brainstorm Health conference.

Moderna also said it is increasing manufacturing capacity for the COVID-19 vaccine. The plan is to create up to 3 billion doses in 2022, which is more than double its previous projections. As part of the scale-up, it is also planning to increase 2021 vaccine manufacturing between 800 million and 1 billion shots, which is an increase from its lower-end projections of 700 million.

The numbers will depend on how many doses of lower-dose formulations for booster shoots and immunizations for children are eventually produced. Moderna’s doses are 100 micrograms of vaccine substance for the standard shot now, but boosters and children’s doses may only use 50 micrograms.

“As we look forward to next year, we just see so much need for primary vaccine, we are hearing it all over the world, and also boosters,” said Hoge. “So depending upon … how much the ordering that happens is third doses or pediatric doses at 50 micrograms, we could see up to 3 billion doses.”

Moderna plans to double production at a drug substance facility in Switzerland run by Lonza Group AG and increase output in Spain owned by Laboratorios Farmaceuticos ROVI SA by more than double. Factories in the U.S. will increase production by more than 50%.

The company is also in late-stage discussions with other manufacturers. Earlier in April, it announced manufacturing contracts with Sanofi SA and Catalent. The U.S. government has agreed to increase its contract for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine by $236 million to about $1.25 billion. This is to cover additional costs associated with the various studies.

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