Shares of Covid-19 vaccine makers fell dramatically early Thursday, after the Biden administration signaled it would support waiving intellectual property protections for the vaccines.
(BNTX), and others have shed billions in market valuation since Ambassador
the U.S. Trade Representative, announced the policy Wednesday afternoon. However, it’s far from clear how soon an IP waiver could actually affect Covid-19 vaccine sales, if at all.
“This will take months or years to set up, so the waiver would not have an immediate impact even if it were to go through,” Raymond James analyst Chris Meekins wrote in a note out late Wednesday.
On an investor call early Thursday,
said that he opposed the waiver, but argued that it wouldn’t impact his company. “I believe it doesn’t change anything for Moderna,” Bancel said. “We saw the news last night. I didn’t lose a minute of sleep over the news.”
Investors were less sanguine.
shares slid 7.1% early Thursday, after falling 4.9% on Wednesday, while BioNTech shares dived 10.1% on Thursday after dropping 3.5% on Wednesday. Moderna, which reported its first profitable quarter ever on Thursday, slid 9% Thursday after a 6.2% decline Wednesday.
(PFE) shares, which have been notably impervious to good news around the company’s Covid-19 vaccine, were down early Thursday, dropping 2.9% as the market opened.
Those selloffs may be an overreaction, given the lack of clarity as to when and how a waiver would affect vaccine sales.
Advocates have backed a waiver of vaccine protections through the World Trade Organization in the hopes they could unlock more vaccine supply.
“The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines,” Tai, the U.S. trade representative, said in a statement.
Still, vaccine supply from the originating manufacturers is set to expand dramatically through next year.
says it expects to be able to make 3 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses in 2022. Moderna plans to make up to 3 billion in 2022 as well. Novavax—which doesn’t yet have marketing authorization for its vaccine—says its supply chain could make up to 2 billion doses annually.
On the Thursday earnings call, Bancel said that there is no idle mRNA manufacturing capacity in the world. “This is a new technology,” he said. “You cannot go hire people who know how to make mRNA. Those people don’t exist … then they will have to go run the clinical trials, get the data, get the product approved, and scale manufacturing. This doesn’t happen in six or 12 or 18 months. We have been working at this for years.”
Analysts were also skeptical that the waiver would have an impact on sales. “We believe the practical impact is limited,” wrote Morgan Stanley analyst
in a note out late Wednesday. He noted that the World Trade Organization could not force vaccine makers to teach other companies to make their vaccines, and that it would take six to nine months to scale up any new manufacturing operation.
In a separate note, Jefferies analyst Michael Yee noted: “More important than just making the vaccine is ensuring the quality of the product, which is also not trivial.”
Novavax didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the IP waiver. Pfizer responded with a statement from the president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the leading pharmaceutical trade association, saying that the waiver would “undermine our global response to the pandemic and compromise safety.”
Write to Josh Nathan-Kazis at email@example.com