Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Investigation

Covid-19: Whatever happened to the Novavax vaccine?

BMJ 2021; 375 doi: (Published 08 December 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;375:n2965

Linked Opinion

Bureaucracy has created a mess for Novavax volunteers like me

  1. Serena Tinari, freelance journalist,
  2. Catherine Riva, freelance journalist
  1. Bern, Switzerland
  1. serena.tinari{at}

Novavax had a vaccine with big promise. Its more traditional technology and easy storage attracted big global investment but, as year two of the pandemic draws to a close, the company struggles with regulators, disappoints hopeful governments, and lags far behind its competitors. Is there still hope, ask Serena Tinari and Catherine Riva

At the start of the covid-19 pandemic a small US drug company found itself in prime position to develop a vaccine.

Before covid, Maryland based Novavax had worked on vaccines against Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), H1N1 influenza, Zika virus, and Ebola virus. As early as January 2020 the biotech firm’s president of research and development, Gregory M Glenn, told the press that it was already developing a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2.

“This type of activity is in our blood,” he said.1

A few weeks later the company’s stocks soared by more than 20% amid claims that it hoped to start clinical trials by the end of the spring. Investment from global and government bodies followed. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a public and private alliance to finance and develop vaccines, has given nearly $400m (£300m; €350m) in funding to date. As a result, Novavax planned to send 1.1 billion doses to Covax, the initiative charged with ensuring equitable access to vaccines around the world. In summer 2020 Novavax was awarded $1.6bn to produce up to 100 million doses by Operation Warp Speed, the US government programme to expedite covid vaccines.

It was an impressive feat for a company that had never brought a product to market and did not own a single manufacturing facility at the time.

But fast forward to today and a series of setbacks has left Novavax lagging far behind its industry rivals Pfizer and Moderna. Its …

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