(Reuters) - Moderna Inc executives said on Thursday they believe a fourth COVID-19 vaccine shot will be needed late this year due to waning protection from earlier doses, which could push up sales in the second half of 2022.
Chief Executive Stephane Bancel stressed that the company's current sales projections for its Spikevax COVID-19 shot - $19 billion in 2022, up from its prior estimate of $18.5 billion - does not include any additional sales to the United States this year.
"What is not clear today is what will the U.S. government decide to do for 2022. Will it be a private market, or a mix of private and free vaccines," Bancel said.
The company said it was in talks with countries for more vaccine orders this year.
Moderna shares jumped 11% to $150.80 amid a fall in the broader markets on Thursday. The stock was down over 70% from its August peak over lackluster flu vaccine data and questions of long-term sustainability of COVID vaccine sales.
However, the company sees a need for seasonal boosters to shore up immunity in people at high-risk of severe illness as the virus continues to circulate while putting less of a strain on healthcare systems.
"We do believe that we are transitioning into an endemic phase, marked by a period of stability in case counts, hospitalizations and death, at least in the Northern Hemisphere," said Moderna's Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton.
Moderna said it expects immunity, even with a booster shot, will decline after six to nine months. It hopes a seasonal booster will help generate virus-neutralizing antibodies for at least six months.
While Moderna cited studies that showed neutralizing antibody levels wane nine months after a booster shot, other researchers believe protection from a third dose could be more durable, especially for younger, healthy people.
U.S. health officials have said they are carefully monitoring the data and have not yet made a decision about whether a fourth shot will be necessary.
Moderna said it was working on a new "bivalent" vaccine that combines a booster designed to tackle the now dominant Omicron variant of the virus with its original COVID-19 vaccine.
Moderna sales soared to $18.5 billion in 2021 from $803 million in 2020, and the company said it would buy back $3 billion in stock. The COVID vaccine is its lone commercial product.
"As (Wall) Street struggles with where the pandemic is going, the next catalysts are Phase II flu data and COVID waves," said Jefferies analyst Michael Yee.
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