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Here's Why Novavax Can Beat Johnson & Johnson in the COVID-19 Vaccine Race

By Cory Renauer - Feb 5, 2021 at 7:45AM

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Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine offers one-shot convenience, but Novavax has clear advantages.

In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on Jan. 29, healthcare and cannabis bureau chief Corinne Cardina and Fool.com writer Cory Renauer discuss some advantages the COVID-19 vaccine candidate from Novavax (NASDAQ: NVAX) has over Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ -1.18%) single-administration solution.

Corinne Cardina: We're going to start by discussing the latest vaccine data. Johnson & Johnson put theirs out this morning, we also have results from Novavax. Then we're going to dive into some of the first healthcare earnings of the season and talk about what that means for the market and what investors need to know. I think I forgot to introduce myself, I'm Corinne Cardina, Bureau Chief of healthcare and cannabis on Fool.com. I've got with me Cory Renauer, a longtime Fool.com writer. Fools, remember, we're using a Q&A service called Slido. You can open that on your browser, or use the app. Our code is MFLive, we'll try to get your questions answered at the end.

We're going to start with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine data. This morning, they announced Phase III data for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Remember, this is a one-dose shot compared to what we already have, which is of course two doses. The company has pledged not to profit on the vaccine during the pandemic. It's going to sell these doses at the exact cost that it takes to make them. The US has already secured 100 million doses from Johnson & Johnson, so those will start being made available if and when the FDA issues an emergency use authorization. Johnson & Johnson stock was actually down this morning. When I looked, it was about 4% percent from the closing price yesterday on this news, which is not nothing for a company that is more than $400 billion in market cap. Cory, what did we learn from Johnson & Johnson press release about its phase 3 trial?

Cory Renauer: We learned that its vaccine candidate is not quite as good as the one Novavax announced results for just yesterday after the bell closed I think. According to the company's release, the phase 3 Ensemble trial, showed that in the United States the level of protection was 72% against moderate to severe. It looks like there were severe patients that received the vaccine, which is something we haven't seen with Novavax's vaccine or the other two that have already been authorized.

Cardina: Definitely. They had about 40,000 participants. Their co-primary endpoints were 14 days and then 28 days after vaccination. Remember, it's just a one-dose shot, so they could do it in a smaller time window than Moderna and Pfizer. You talked a little bit about Novavax already. I'm going to put your article from yesterday into the chat, if anyone's interested in Novavax's results. Do we know how many doses the U.S. has secured from Novavax, if any?

Renauer: I'm sorry, I'm not sure about that.

Cardina: That's OK. Basically, the US bought more doses from Moderna and Pfizer. What? Can you hear me?

Renauer: You cut out for a second there mid-sentence, I'm sorry.

Cardina: It's OK, my Internet can be a little sketchy. My question is that the US went and bought more doses from Moderna and Pfizer earlier this week, 100 million from each. Of course, we've already secured a 100 million doses ahead of time from Johnson & Johnson. I'm just curious if you have any thoughts on is there any market share left for Novavax?

Renauer: Yeah, I think so. It depends on how quickly it can be produced and shipped. The number of contracted vaccine doses, I'm not going to say it's irrelevant but it's not as relevant as how quickly you can actually get them manufactured and get them into the hands of people that will administer them.

The Novavax vaccine has a little bit of advantage over the ones that are already authorized. It's a traditional vaccine, so that should make it a little bit easier to manufacture and distribute. It's the full spike protein. Johnson & Johnson's vaccine, although it is one shot, it's a fancy DNA strand that teaches cells to make that spike protein, which should in theory make it really effective. To see it underperform is disappointing. Again, these are different populations, but it looks like it underperformed compared to Novavax's old school recombinant protein vaccine.

Cardina: Yeah, and another question will be how these continue to hold up with the variants. Johnson & Johnson was weaker against the South African variant. It's possible that they may want to look into two doses. It is one dose, but if they need some booster that could also play into things. We will keep an eye on that Fools.

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