Novavax bid for COVID vaccine share isn't yet working out in Europe: report

Novavax has set itself up as a “new option” for the vaccine-hesitant who may not want the current crop of mRNA shots from Pfizer and Moderna, but that message doesn’t appear to yet be getting through in Europe.

The company's shot, Nuvaxovid—which works using older protein-based vaccine technology that you’d see in flu shots—was approved in Europe at the end of last year. As the company recently explained to Fierce Pharma Marketing, its marketing plan is to get that vaccine into otherwise hesitant arms, predominately for the first time but also as a booster.

But new data amassed by the Robert Koch Institute and analyzed by Reuters show that for the last few months at least, the company has struggled to translate that message into action.

Looking at Germany, the EU’s most populous country and one with more than 10 million unvaccinated adults, only around 38,000 Novavax doses have been administered since the rollout began Feb. 24, according to data from the Institute.

And so far in March, Novavax's vaccine accounts for a tiny share of the shots administered. Nearly 90,000 COVID vaccines have been given every day in the country, mostly as boosters, but just a mere 3% of them were Novavax's. Supply isn't the problem; more than 2 million Nuvaxovid doses have been distributed to the country.

The data show a similar picture in Italy, where fewer than 16,000 Nuvaxovid doses have been administered since Feb. 28, when the rollout started. In the same period, the country injected more than 70,000 COVID-19 vaccines a day, mostly boosters, government data reported by Reuters show.

“The hope that the [Novavax] vaccine could convince the undecided has been dashed. Unfortunately, there is no upsurge in the number of newly vaccinated people,” said Nino Cartabellotta, who chairs the Gimbe Foundation research group, speaking to Reuters.

Novavax did not reply to Fierce Pharma about why the rollout appears to be stalling in Europe and what this might mean for its push into the U.S.

The company is set for an FDA advisory committee hearing for an emergency use authorization in the coming weeks. If Novavax wins that green light, the shot would have a much larger market to generate sales, but much rides on whether it can bring efficacy and safety—and, from a marketing angle, whether U.S. residents will be more willing to take up the shot.

Novavax has already kick-started an early, unbranded education campaign aimed at talking up its technology in general. The idea is to persuade people resisting mRNA shots—and younger kids, for whom mRNA shots aren't approved—into the doctor’s office for Nuvaxovid.  

In a note to clients this week, analysts at Jefferies highlighted the same troubling pattern the Institute data showed, but did see an opportunity for the shot as new variants emerge.

Tracking the vaccine numbers, the firm said Novavax, which also has approvals outside the EU, has delivered about 47 million doses with around 55 million more doses expected in the near term.

Only around 100,000 doses have actually been administered so far, Jefferies said, “which could suggest limited real-world adoption.” Large inventories of the older shots, Nuvaxovid's lack of a booster approval and its initial logistics restrictions could be contributing factors, “beyond the tepid true demand.”

Still, recent increases in new COVID cases around the world—particularly in Europe and the U.S., which is being pummeled by omicron variants—“indicate that the real-world uptake of Novavax’s vaccine could accelerate and sustain,” Jefferies said. The analysts believe Novavax sales projection for the vaccine, of $4 billion to $5 billion this year, can still be realized.