It's taken the S&P 500 index 25 years to rise more than 500%. Ocugen (NASDAQ:OCGN) just did it in two weeks. 

Many investors have jumped aboard the Ocugen bandwagon after the drugmaker finalized a deal with Bharat Biotech to co-develop COVID-19 vaccine Covaxin for the U.S. market. Some of them have made a boatload of money in a very short period.

But the rapid growth for Ocugen's share price has tapered off now. The moment for raking in enormous profits practically overnight seems to have passed. What should investors who missed the party do now?

Forget Ocugen! Here's a COVID stock that could make you richer more quickly.

Two COVID-19 vaccine vials and a syringe on top of a pile of cash

Image source: Getty Images.

A blast from the (near) past

Ocugen has been on a tear this year, but the biotech stock floundered in 2020. That wasn't the case for Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX). Its shares skyrocketed 2,700% last year and has more than doubled so far in 2021.

While Ocugen had to team up with another company to jump into the COVID-19 vaccine race, Novavax did it all on its own. It was among the first drugmakers to begin developing an experimental COVID-19 vaccine last year and also ranked among the most successful.

On Jan. 28, 2021, Novavax announced stellar results from a U.K. late-stage study of its COVID-19 vaccine, NVX-CoV2373. The biotech reported 89.3% overall efficacy, along with an attractive safety profile. 

While that overall efficacy was a little lower than levels demonstrated by Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines, there's more to the story. Novavax said that the efficacy of its vaccine against the prevalent coronavirus strain was 95.6% -- slightly above Pfizer's and Moderna's efficacy levels.

NVX-CoV2373 is the first vaccine with clinical data showing that it provides solid protection against infection from the new coronavirus variant first identified in the U.K., with an efficacy of 85.6%. In a separate phase 2 study conducted in South Africa, Novavax's vaccine also appeared to be effective in providing protection against the South African coronavirus variant with an efficacy of 60%. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established a benchmark threshold of 50% efficacy for a COVID-19 vaccine candidate to win emergency use authorization (EUA).

Near-term catalysts

Why do I think that buying shares of Novavax could make you richer more quickly than investing in Ocugen? Novavax has several near-term catalysts, while Ocugen's potential catalysts are likely further in the future.

Novavax has already filed for authorizations of NVX-CoV2373 with regulatory authorities in the U.K., European Union, and Canada. A thumbs-up from any of these regulatory agencies would almost certainly send the biotech's shares higher.

More importantly, Novavax is talking with the FDA about the potential for securing EUA for NVX-CoV2373 based on its U.K. study results. There's no guarantee the FDA will go along with this approach. Even if it doesn't, though, Novavax has its bases covered.

The company began a late-stage study of NVX-CoV2373 in the U.S. and Mexico in December. Results from that study should be on the way within the next couple of months. Assuming the efficacy and safety profile from this pivotal study are as good as what Novavax reported from its U.K. study, the biotech should have a very good chance of winning EUA in the U.S.

Much less risky

Novavax's prospects for NVX-CoV2373 don't come with a high level of risk. The company already has strong results from a late-stage study plus a growing number of supply deals with countries around the world.

It's a different story with Ocugen. Bharat Biotech won EUA for Covaxin in India earlier this year. However, the vaccine is still in late-stage testing. Its efficacy level hasn't been firmly established. 

Ocugen is in discussions with the FDA about a path to EUA and eventual full approval for Covaxin. I think it's highly likely that the company will be required to conduct its own clinical studies in the U.S. Enrollment in those studies could be challenging, with multiple vaccines already available to Americans.

Even if Covaxin wins EUA in the U.S., it could be a while before it achieves commercial success. The U.S. government already has supply deals in place with Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson. The total volumes for these deals are more than enough to fully vaccinate all Americans this year and make a big dent in 2022. 

Also, Ocugen only gets to keep 45% of the profits of any future U.S. sales of Covaxin. Bharat pockets the majority of the money. Novavax, on the other hand, will record every penny of profits that NVX-CoV2373 makes in the U.S. market.

Maybe Ocugen will become a big winner in the U.S. COVID-19 vaccine market. But I don't think there's a "maybe" with Novavax's U.S. prospects.

Novavax's shares won't soar as much as they did last year. They probably won't double again as they've done so far in 2021. However, if you're looking for a solid gain in a relatively short amount of time, Novavax appears to be a better alternative than Ocugen right now.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.