scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Moderna readies its updated COVID vaccine for fall, but demand could be tepid

The Cambridge biotech’s stock is down sharply so far this year following its meteoric rise during the pandemic

Employees worked inside Moderna's production plant in Norwood earlier this year.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

A new batch of updated COVID vaccines should be ready to inject into Americans’ arms by the end of next month. But demand may not be strong enough to reverse the market slide of Moderna, the Cambridge maker of the messenger RNA shots that helped arrest the pandemic and became a major biotech player in the process.

Analysts point to broad-based “COVID fatigue” ― dimming enthusiasm for another round of vaccinations. Fatigue has taken hold even as COVID hospital admissions nationwide have trended up in August, climbing 14.3 percent to 10,320 for the week ending Aug. 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But virus-related hospitalizations remain far below the 42,813 during the same period last summer.


Investors, meanwhile, have cooled on Moderna, a pandemic-era biotech superstar. Despite its pipeline of nearly 50 experimental drugs, from cancer vaccines to rare disease therapies, Moderna has lost more than 40 percent of its market value this year amid doubts over how soon profitable new drugs will be able to offset slumping vaccine sales. For now, the COVID vaccine remains its only approved product.

Moderna’s shares tumbled 4.3 percent to $101.62 on the Nasdaq exchange Friday.

Mani Foroohar, a stock analyst with Boston investment bank Leerink Partners, said Moderna was one of many biotechs that expanded too fast during the pandemic. The company may now be heading for a “headcount reduction,” he wrote in a recent note to investors, citing its plans to spend $6 billion this year on research, employees, and other costs.

A nurse administered a Moderna COVID-19 booster vaccine in Mississippi in 2022.Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

“If they don’t see a sharp recovery in COVID vaccine volumes in [the] third and fourth quarter, this company becomes, almost inevitably in our mind, a restructuring candidate,” Foroohar said in an interview Thursday. “I can’t see another responsible avenue for this company.”

Moderna officials didn’t respond to questions Thursday about their expectations for this fall’s updated vaccine or their plans going forward.


Earlier this month, the company reported a net loss of $1.4 billion in the second quarter, a sharp reversal from the $2.2 billion it earned in the corresponding period last year. Moderna projected 2023 vaccine revenue of $6 billion to $8 billion “dependent on US vaccination rates.” It rang up sales of $19.3 billion in 2022 and $18.5 billion in 2021.

The wide range of revenue guidance reflects uncertainty over vaccine demand. With the US government no longer covering the costs of inoculations, the new round of vaccinations will mean higher costs to health insurers. Biden administration officials in April announced bridge funding to pay for COVID vaccines for millions of uninsured adults, but it remains to be seen whether some will have to pay out of pocket.

For the American population as a whole, “predicting [vaccine] uptake is tricky,” said Jen Kates, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, who tracks COVID vaccination trends. “Judging by what we’ve seen in the past, I don’t think you’re going to see a huge clamor.”

Kates said 32 percent of US respondents to a Kaiser survey in April said they’d be very likely to get an annual COVID shot, while another 21 percent said they’d be somewhat likely to get it. But only 17 percent of Americans, and 43 percent of those aged 65 and older, considered a vulnerable cohort, have taken the so-called bivalent booster, which protects against the original COVID virus and the long-dominant Omicron variant.


There have been questions about how well the new mRNA vaccines from Moderna, as well as rival shots from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, which the companies also plan to introduce in other countries, will hold up against a new strain of the COVID virus.

The updated vaccines available this fall are designed to combat the Omicron variant, offering protection against death, serious disease, and hospitalization. Moderna said Thursday that its vaccine also proved effective in tests against a fast-circulating Omicron subvariant called EG.5, or Eris, which accounts for 17 percent of new cases.

Because of evolving variants, vaccine makers have had to dispose of large volumes of vaccine doses over the past year, adding to the already high cost of making and distributing their products, Foroohar said.

Moderna's new headquarters on Binney Street in Cambridge, under construction in the summer of 2022.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

He said it will be hard for Moderna to replicate its success against the COVID vaccine in coming products, which won’t get financial help from the government. The company’s vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, expected next year, would be third in the market and would have to compete with rival vaccines from Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline.

“Their success in COVID was so overwhelming and unprecedented that expectations got a little out of whack,” Foroohar said. “We had a massive, global Manhattan Project-style investment in vaccine technology, which is appropriate and to the credit of the human species. That does not, however, mean that outside of a pandemic, in more traditional areas of drug development, they’re going to see such rapid development.”


If the company does cut costs, it would follow a parade of other life sciences companies, large and small, which have pared their payrolls over the summer after expanding during the pandemic. This week, Waltham-based Thermo Fisher gave notice it would cut more than 200 jobs in Florida. And late last month, Cambridge-based Biogen announced it was eliminating about 1,000 jobs worldwide.

A raft of smaller biotechs, including Karyopharm in Newton, Homology Medicines in Bedford, Intergalactic Therapeutics in Cambridge, ImmuneID in Boston, and Infinity Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, have also announced staff cutbacks since the start of July.

Robert Weisman can be reached at