As President-elect Joe Biden takes office, one of the key issues at hand is the national Covid-19 response. Who receives vaccines, and when? And how can the United States speed up the vaccination process? Pharma stocks are in the crosshairs as Biden retires Operation Warp Speed and implements his own plan. Dive in with InvestorPlace below for our Covid-19 vaccine roundup.
Investors are likely familiar with the fact that there are two vaccines making their rounds in the U.S. One comes from duo Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and BioNTech (NASDAQ:BNTX), and the other from Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA). However, a handful of other companies are still navigating clinical trials in hopes of receiving approval. That means there are other pharma stocks worthy of attention.
Alongside the so-called vaccine race, Biden must navigate his response. He has already pledged to vaccinate 100 million Americans in 100 days, acknowledging the shortcomings in vaccine rollout so far. Additionally, he said he wants to further centralize the Covid-19 strategy. As part of this, he plans to use FEMA and the National Guard to build vaccine clinics across the U.S. All eyes are on Washington, and with so much Covid-19 vaccine news, they will stay there for a while.
As investors process a new president, new strains of the virus and new response methods around the world, pharma stocks remain ones to watch. Here are five companies — and everything you need to know about them.
Covid-19 Pharma Stocks No. 1: Pfizer (PFE)
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech continue to lead the race, meaning that the two companies produce all sorts of news.
The basic story is that Pfizer and BioNTech were the first companies to receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Although the vaccine requires ultra-low temperatures in storage, doses are making their way around the world. To start January, the World Health Organization issued the duo emergency-use authorization. This means that low and middle-income countries can start to vaccinate their populations.
Beyond that though, Pfizer and BioNTech have been at the center of all sorts of news… good and bad.
Starting with the bad news, Pfizer and BioNTech have faced a few manufacturing setbacks, at least in the short term. The two companies have pledged to ramp production to 2 billion doses a year, targeting a boost in supply in the second quarter. As they retool a factory in Belgium to hit those goals, Europe, Canada and the U.S. will face short-term disruptions. While this initially may spook some investors, Pfizer and BioNTech say deliveries will return to normal shortly.
Then there are two promising stories to watch. The first is further confirmation that the vaccine is effective against the original Covid-19 strain. According to various reports, people who have received the second dose see as much as a 12-fold increase in antibody production. The other reason for cheer is news that the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is effective against the so-called United Kingdom strain. With panic over these emerging virus variants rising, any offer of protection should be good for PFE and BNTX stock.
Covid-19 Pharma Stock No. 2: Moderna (MRNA)
Like that of Pfizer, the Moderna vaccine continues to make its away around the U.S. and the world. In fact, Moderna added Switzerland to its approval list earlier in January, and is in the process of delivering 7.5 million doses to the European nation.
But what other MRNA stock news should you be aware of?
Also like Pfizer, the Moderna vaccine does pose some storage and transportation concerns. That is because it too requires cold temperatures. In recent days, this requirement has backfired in the news. For instance, nearly 12,000 doses are now unusable thanks to temperature control failures. These doses departed en route for Michigan on Jan. 17, and were not kept at the appropriate temperature. Another 4,400 doses in Maine may also be unusable thanks to the same issues.
While these temperature issues come back to the companies responsible for transportation, it may make investors uneasy when it comes to MRNA stock. Instead of panicking, consider the opportunity you can find elsewhere. Other companies in the race, although they are behind, promise to offer vaccines without stringent storage requirements. If those companies receive FDA approval and scale up manufacturing, they could see a real boost.
Covid-19 Pharma Stocks No. 3: AstraZeneca (AZN)
The big question for investors is why do individuals in the U.S. still not have access to the AstraZeneca (NASDAQ:AZN) vaccine? Once a frontrunner, and even touted by President Donald Trump as a likely candidate for emergency-use authorization, AstraZeneca has fallen out of the spotlight…
Or at least, it has fallen out of the spotlight in the U.S. Over in the United Kingdom, public health officials are calling the AstraZeneca vaccine a game-changer. The vaccine, which was produced in partnership with the University of Oxford, received regulatory approval at the end of December. Since then, the U.K. is using it to help vaccinate its 15 million most at-risk residents. Specifically, public health officials say that with its looser storage and administration requirements, it is perfect for nursing home populations.
It sounds like AstraZeneca would be a huge help over in the U.S. For investors then, the question is if and when we will see that approval come through. If it does, look to AZN stock as a Covid-19 winner. For now though, it remains a somewhat forgotten pick among coronavirus pharma stocks.
Covid-19 Pharma Stocks No. 4: Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)
One of the last well-known participants in the pharma stocks race, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) has also fallen through the cracks. That is because its Covid-19 vaccine candidate is farther behind in the clinical trial process.
However, news last week should spark some hope for JNJ stock fans. Early results from a combined Phase 1-2 trial show that the vaccine candidate is safe and triggers an immune response. Ongoing Phase 3 trials will now aim to prove that the candidate is effective in protecting recipients against Covid-19.
So what comes next? Although Johnson & Johnson has a lot of ground to cover, the company says it should be able to share results from its late-stage trials this month. After that, it will seek regulatory approval with the FDA. One thing that makes this promising is that the Johnson & Johnson candidate also has its perks compared to those from Pfizer and Moderna. Unlike the current two-shot dosing regimens, JNJ believes its vaccine is effective with just one dose.
While it is also testing a two-dose regimen, a single protecting shot would revolutionize the Covid-19 vaccine rollout. Here, you should not hold your breath. But if JNJ manages to deliver, it is certainly a pharma stock to watch.
Covid-19 Pharma Stock No. 5: Novavax (NVAX)
Last but not least on this list of pharma stocks is Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX). A true underdog, NVAX stock continues to attract fans for what it represents. Essentially, Novavax is the ground floor approach to a Covid-19 vaccine. When you invest in Pfizer or AstraZeneca, you also get their full pipelines of established drugs. Novavax is a true vaccine play. Its pipeline includes candidates for the seasonal flu and Ebola. And its Covid-19 candidate is truly in the spotlight.
Unfortunately the latest news is a bit troubling for NVAX stock.
According to reports, clinical trial participants want to leave Novavax studies. Before you panic, know that it has nothing to do with the candidate itself. However, as states continue to roll out vaccines to elderly populations, some individuals want more of a sure bet. Right now, that means leaving Novavax trials in favor of a Pfizer or Moderna shot. For Novavax, that means it faces issues recruiting and maintaining its trial groups.
It appears that Novavax is suffering simply because its clinical trial process is not as far along. For hopeful investors, that means NVAX stock is not completely out of the running. However, it does mean that you should proceed with caution as you evaluate this underdog play.
On the date of publication, Sarah Smith did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article.
Sarah Smith is a Web Content Producer with InvestorPlace.com.