Shipping delays, supply chain expansions ding Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine business

Moderna manufacturing site
After previously predicting $20 billion in COVID-19 vaccine sales this year, Moderna dialed back its projection to $15 billion at the low end. (Moderna)

Moderna has been biotech’s biggest growth story in 2021, but the company’s rate of expansion slowed considerably in recent months as shipping delays and a supply chain scale-up took a toll.

In the third quarter, the mRNA biotech delivered 208 million COVID-19 vaccine doses worldwide, a figure Chief Financial Officer David Meline called a “relatively modest” increase from the 199 million doses it delivered in the second quarter.

What’s behind the slowdown? Moderna shipped more doses internationally in the third quarter than in prior periods. Those shipments required “longer delivery lead times” than its earlier doses, the company said, leading to export delays.

“Our supply chain became more complex, with increased deliveries” to various countries around the world, CEO Stéphane Bancel said on a conference call Thursday. Moderna has been charging lower prices to many of the recently added countries, Bancel added.

As a result of the international shipping delays, the company expects some fourth-quarter deliveries to get pushed into 2022. Moderna now expects $15 billion to $18 billion in 2021 sales, down from a prior estimate of $20 billion.

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For next year, Moderna has signed advance purchase agreements worth $17 billion; options could be worth another $3 billion. In addition, the fall booster market for 2022 could be bring in as much as $2 billion. The company expects $17 billion to $22 billion in total COVID-19 vaccine sales in 2022.

In addition to dealing with delivery issues, Moderna has been adding fill-finish capacity, Bancel said. The “work is complete now, and we should see a positive impact from this expansion very soon,” the CEO added.

Investors weren’t happy with those explanations, however. They sent Moderna’s shares down about 14% to $296 on Thursday morning.

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Another challenge for Moderna? The company’s FDA application for its COVID-19 vaccine in kids has been delayed at the agency while officials examine myocarditis risks. Moderna said that issue could take until January to resolve. As that plays out, the COVID-19 vaccine from its rival Pfizer has scored an FDA nod in children as young as 5, and vaccinations are already starting in that age group.

Still, despite the challenges, Moderna is on track to generate at least $15 billion in 2021 after posting less than $1 million in sales last year.