Moderna announced Thursday it will boost its COVID-19 vaccine capacity by up to 3 billion doses in 2022, potentially tripling its yearly output, as the company seeks to meet rising global demand.
The company also announced that its doses can remain stable for three months when kept in normal refrigeration, making it easier for places lacking the expensive freezers currently needed to store the Moderna vaccine.
Moderna said it will ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to extend the storage time of its vaccine in a regular refrigerator. Currently, the vaccine is only approved for storage in temperatures between 35 and 46 Fahrenheit degrees for a month and up to seven months at -4 F.
The company said it also plans to increase supply of the vaccine this year by 800 million to 1 billion doses, up from a minimum of 700 million it had forecast previously.
Most of next year’s doses will go toward vaccinating young children and for booster shots, which are likely to be needed as immunity wanes with time and in the face of new variants.
“As we follow the rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, we believe that there will continue to be a significant need for our mRNA COVID-19 vaccine and our variant booster candidates into 2022 and 2023,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement.
The company said it would increase supply by 50 percent at its Massachusetts plant, which makes much of the vaccine substance used in shots for the US market.
The company’s investments also would enable partner Lonza Group AG, which is making a supply for foreign markets, to double its output at a factory in Switzerland that makes vaccine substances. Vaccine output at a third factory in Spain operated by another partner, Laboratorios Farmaceuticos Rovi SA, also would more than double under the plan, Bloomberg reported.
“We are together convinced that we need more doses, we need to produce more,” Lonza Chairman Albert M. Baehny told The Wall Street Journal. “We just want to participate effectively in the fight against the pandemic.”
The increased production from the company-owned and partner factories is expected to ramp up in late 2021 and early 2022, Moderna said.
Moderna said it expects its output for 2022 to be a mix of its current authorized vaccine and new shots it is developing to target certain variants. The extra doses would supply the US and other countries, the company said.
Moderna’s vaccine is authorized for use by adults in the US, European Union and numerous other countries. The company expects data soon from a US study of the two-dose vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds and has begun testing the shots in younger children. Other studies including doses tweaked to better match mutated versions of the coronavirus.
The company has been criticized for selling most doses of its vaccine to high-income countries and shutting out countries with smaller markets. Unlike Pfizer, Moderna hasn’t yet reached an agreement with COVAX, a global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, to distribute its vaccine to low-income countries.
A spokesperson from Moderna said that the company is in discussions with COVAX and that a vaccine that can be refrigerated for up to three months may help distribution in lower-income countries.
Countries like India struggling with rising coronavirus cases and lagging in vaccination campaigns are searching for more doses that could protect their populations.
More countries have expressed interest in the last month in securing additional supplies of Moderna’s vaccine beyond current supply contracts, Bancel told the Journal.
Last week, Moderna signed a new supply agreement with Israel for 2022 that includes an option for doses of a vaccine targeting variants.
“We really believe that the virus is going to keep evolving fast with new mutations, and that variant boosters are a must for us to stop this pandemic,” Bancel told The Wall Street Journal.
Agencies contributed to this story.