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Which Is the Best COVID Vaccine Stock: Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, or Novavax?

By Keith Speights - Jan 31, 2021 at 6:10AM

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Hint: It's complicated.

Which COVID-19 vaccine is the best? The correct answer is that it depends on which factor is most important to you.

Comirnaty (BNT162b2), the vaccine developed by BioNTech (BNTX 0.11%) and its big partner Pfizer (PFE 0.56%), had the highest overall efficacy in late-stage testing. But Moderna's (MRNA -0.92%) efficacy for mRNA-1273 was nearly as high. The biotech also developed a formulation that doesn't have the stringent ultracold storage requirements that Comirnaty does.

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ -0.98%) just reported an OK but not overly impressive efficacy result for its vaccine. However, it requires only a single dose -- a big plus. Then there's Novavax (NVAX -0.88%). The biotech announced great efficacy and safety results for its COVID-19 vaccine last week. The downside is that the results are from a U.K. study. It will be a few more months before Novavax's results from a study conducted in the U.S. and Mexico are available.

The same "it depends" answer also applies to the question about which of these is the best COVID vaccine stock. Here's how I think Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax rank for different kinds of investors.

COVID-19 vaccine vials next to a syringe and stacks of cash

Image source: Getty Images.

For income investors

Let's start with a relatively easy comparison. Income investors want dividends. We can immediately eliminate BioNTech, Moderna, and Novavax from contention because they don't currently have dividend programs. That leaves only Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.

If your primary focus is yield, Pfizer is the better pick. Its dividend currently yields over 4.3% compared to 2.4% for J&J. Although Pfizer's dividend will be a little lower going forward now that it's spun off its Upjohn unit, its yield should still be well above Johnson & Johnson's.

On the other hand, if you place a higher priority on dividend track records, J&J is the obvious choice. The healthcare giant is a Dividend King with an impressive 58 consecutive years of dividend increases.

For value investors

It's not a tough decision to select the best COVID vaccine stock for value investors, either. Value investors typically focus on metrics based on earnings or sales. That knocks BioNTech, Moderna, and Novavax from the list. 

Based on any of the most commonly used valuation metrics, Pfizer appears to be the winner versus Johnson & Johnson. For example, Pfizer shares trade at less than 11.5 times expected earnings. J&J stock trades at nearly 19 times expected earnings.

For growth investors

Now for the most difficult choice: picking the best of these stocks for growth investors. The tables are turned this time. Neither Pfizer nor Johnson & Johnson have sales and earnings growth potential that's as big as the smaller biotech stocks.

We can also rule out BioNTech. It must split any sales for Comirnaty with Pfizer. The company also doesn't have any other pipeline candidates in late-stage testing that could be on the market in the near future.

So which growth stock wins in a head-to-head matchup between Moderna and Novavax? I'll go with Novavax. Perhaps most importantly, Novavax's market cap is a lot smaller than Moderna's. That should give Novavax more room to run if its COVID-19 vaccine wins emergency use authorizations (which I'm confident that it will).

This ties into another reason why Novavax is the better choice for growth investors. The biotech still has multiple key catalysts on the way for its NVX-CoV2373 coronavirus vaccine, including potential U.K. authorization, late-stage results from its U.S./Mexico study, and potential U.S. emergency use authorization.

Novavax also has another promising candidate that has a great chance of winning regulatory approvals -- flu vaccine NanoFlu. If approved, NanoFlu could become a blockbuster in its own right. As an added bonus, Novavax is exploring the potential of developing a combo COVID/flu vaccine featuring NVX-CoV2373 and NanoFlu.

Multiple winners

My view is that Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are great picks for more conservative investors, especially retirees and others who want income from dividends. I think that Novavax is the best choice for more aggressive investors seeking strong growth.

The good news, though, is that all of these stocks could be winners over the long run. Moderna offers a tantalizing platform based on its messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. BioNTech also has promising mRNA vaccines and therapies in development plus candidates using other approaches. I suspect that 10 years from now, investors who bought any of these stocks won't have regrets.

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Stocks Mentioned

Novavax, Inc. Stock Quote
Novavax, Inc.
$46.13 (-0.88%) $0.41
Pfizer Inc. Stock Quote
Pfizer Inc.
$53.71 (0.56%) $0.30
Johnson & Johnson Stock Quote
Johnson & Johnson
$179.62 (-0.98%) $-1.78
Moderna, Inc. Stock Quote
Moderna, Inc.
$130.85 (-0.92%) $-1.21
BioNTech SE Stock Quote
BioNTech SE
$154.67 (0.11%) $0.17

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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