Since the beginning of 2020, Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX) stock has skyrocketed close to 3,300%. Some investors have raked in a staggering return in less than 22 months.

But what about those who bought shares of Novavax at the very beginning? If you invested $10,000 in Novavax's initial public offering (IPO), here's how much you'd have today. 

A person looking at a chart going up.

Image source: Getty Images.

A trick question

Actually, asking how much money you'd have today if you invested in Novavax's IPO is a trick question. There's a simple reason why: Novavax didn't have an IPO. Instead, the company first listed its shares in 1995 through a reverse three-way merger with Lipovax and MPS Acquisition. The latter company was a subsidiary that Novavax created for its merger with Lipovax.

We can, though, determine how much a $10,000 investment in Novavax would be worth today had you invested on the first day the stock traded publicly. Novavax opened at $67.50 on Dec. 5, 1995. An initial $10,000 investment would have bought 148 shares and left you with $10 to spare. 

You might think that initial stake could have blossomed into a six-figure or even seven-figure fortune based on Novavax's tremendous performance since last year. However, that's not the case.

Based on the closing price of Novavax stock on Oct. 25, 2021, your initial investment of $10,000 in 1995 would have grown to around $20,045. After 26 years, your money would've barely doubled. That's definitely an underwhelming return.

What you could have made

Since we're talking hypothetically, let's go one step further. What if you'd invested $10,000 in Novavax at its lowest point instead of when it first publicly traded? The outcome improves significantly.

Novavax opened at an all-time low of $3.70 on Nov. 21, 2019. The company continued to reel from multiple setbacks for its respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine candidate ResVax. Its future was murky, at best.

An initial $10,000 investment at that low would have bought 2,702 shares with a little pocket change to spare. Fast forward to Oct. 25, 2021, and that amount would have mushroomed into more than $365,930. 

After its dark days of 2019, Novavax experienced success after success. It reported positive results from a late-stage study of experimental flu vaccine NanoFlu in March 2020. The company also won a major award from the U.S. government to fund the development of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate NVX-CoV2373. This vaccine also went on to demonstrate success in clinical studies.

Novavax's share price has fallen nearly 60% below its highs from earlier this year, though. The company's repeated delays in filing for Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for NVX-CoV2373 have taken a steep toll. 

How much would you have made if you had invested $10,000 at the low and sold at the high set on Feb. 8, 2021? Your initial investment would have turned into more than $891,630. I suspect, though, that the number of investors who pulled off this ultimate feat is roughly equal to the number who bought Novavax at its IPO -- zero.

The more important question

There's a much more important question, though: How much could you make by investing in Novavax now? Of course, it's difficult to answer that question with a high level of confidence. However, I suspect there's a reasonable chance that you could achieve a solid return.

My outlook hinges on Novavax meeting its timeline for regulatory filings for NVX-CoV2373. It also assumes that the vaccine will receive authorizations and approvals in key markets.

If NVX-CoV2373 reaches the market in the U.S., Europe, and other major countries, Wall Street projects that Novavax could make around $5.5 billion next year. With its market cap at only around $10 billion, the stock seems to be absurdly cheap right now

I don't think that an initial $10,000 investment now will turn into hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the stock doubled in value. If so, that would give you a similar return as you would've had by investing in Novavax at the beginning. And you don't have to wait 26 years to get there.

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.