What happened

Shares of the COVID-19 vaccine players Heat Biologics (HTBX 1.14%), Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO 14.89%), and Novavax (NVAX -2.51%) are all starting the week off on a sour note. Heat Biologics' stock is down by 13%, Inovio's shares are under water by 10.6%, and Novavax's equity is in the red by 11.1% as of 10:09 a.m EDT Monday morning. 

What's spooking investors? Reports surfaced over the weekend that President Donald Trump may green-light AstraZeneca's (AZN 0.39%) experimental COVID-19 vaccine by October. The approval, if it happens, would likely occur through a mechanism known as an emergency use authorization (EUA).

A man getting punched in the face.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

On Sunday, the Food and Drug Administration announced the EUA of convalescent plasma therapy, a move that seems to be stoking fears among investors in vaccine companies that aren't quite as far along as AstraZeneca in terms of clinical development. Put simply, AstraZeneca may leapfrog these second-tier players through an EUA. 

Heat Biologics has so far released promising pre-clinical data for its heat shock protein based COVID-19 vaccine. But an early-stage trial isn't slated to kick off until the first quarter of 2021. Inovio, on the other hand, plans to initiate a phase 2/3 trial later this year for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate known as INO-4800. Finally, Novavax's COVID-19 candidate, NVX‑CoV2373, has only completed a phase 1 trial up to this point. 

So AstraZeneca does indeed have a good chance at beating all three of these companies to the punch -- that is, if these rumors of an EUA turn out to be true.  

Now what

Should bargain hunters pounce on any of these beaten-down coronavirus stocks today? It's hard to say. There are a lot of moving parts on the vaccine development front. Researchers don't even fully understand the respective roles of innate versus adaptive immunity when it comes to this particular virus. That leaves a lot of room for late-comers such as Heat Biologics, Inovio, and Novavax.

Bottom line: AstraZeneca's vaccine -- if approved under EUA -- probably won't be a showstopper for these other companies. So, if you're risk-tolerant, it might be worthwhile to pick up a few shares of one or more of these coronavirus vaccine stocks today.