Moderna dials up low-end COVID-19 vaccine supply estimate, setting sights on 1B doses in 2021

Moderna Therapeutics is angling to surpass the hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses it’s already pledged to governments worldwide. And, on Monday, the drugmaker signaled that it's inching toward that goal, dialing up its low-end manufacturing predictions for the year.

Moderna has raised its base-case global production estimate from 500 million doses to 600 million doses this year. The supply bump comes as the company continues to invest and staff up, with a view to potentially hit 1 billion doses in 2021, Moderna said.

The company will need those extra doses, too: It recently received expanded vaccine orders from the likes of Canada, the U.S. and the EU. The FDA in December cleared the shot for emergency use in Americans 18 years and older, with Health Canada following suit a week later.

Moderna expects some 100 million doses to be available in the U.S. by the first quarter’s end, out of a total 200 million it aims to supply by the close of the second quarter. Moderna started delivering shipments shortly after its December green light and, to date, around 18 million doses have made their way to the U.S. government, the company said.

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“Our effectiveness in providing early supply to the U.S. and Canadian governments and our ability to increase baseline production estimates for 2021 are both signals that our scale-up of mRNA vaccine production is a success,” Juan Andres, chief technical operations and quality officer at Moderna, said in a release.

The company has yet to reveal the specific investments or plans that could carry it to its billion-dose goal, a Moderna spokesperson said over email. 

Throughout 2020, Moderna tapped a wide network of manufacturers to support its pandemic efforts, signing on Lonza for production in the U.S. and Europe and Catalent for fill-finish work in the U.S. Meanwhile, it enlisted ROVI and Recipharm to tackle those duties in Spain and France, respectively.

The Recipharm team-up—Moderna’s latest—was finalized Dec. 30. The Stockholm-based CDMO will perform formulation and fill-finish duties at its French manufacturing facility, with supply anticipated to commence in 2021 pending European approval, the companies said.

While Pfizer and BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine beat Moderna’s to the punch in the U.S., the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based drugmaker was quick to swoop in with extra shots as supply deals with Pfizer and the federal government charted bumpy waters late last year. The same week Moderna snared FDA authorization, it sold an additional 100 million doses to the U.S. for around $1.68 billion. The U.S. exercised its first option for additional vaccines as officials struggled to lock down 100 million more doses from Pfizer, which the country eventually secured in late December.

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Meanwhile, Canada raised its order with Moderna from 20 million doses to 40 million doses in December, and, a little over a week later, the European Commission also doubled its purchase agreement, securing 80 million more doses for a total of 160 million. Moderna continues to ink fresh supply deals, too, announcing on New Year’s Eve that it had committed 40 million doses to South Korea. 

Moderna’s new production estimate comes amid strained vaccination efforts in the U.S. and beyond. In a bid to stretch supplies, the U.S. government has launched talks with the company and the FDA about potentially halving the dose of Moderna’s vaccine, Operation Warp Speed chief Moncef Slaoui, Ph.D., told CBS News’ "Face the Nation" on Sunday.