Former President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed got a lot of praise for getting COVID-19 vaccines developed and into arms in under a year. But it’s not one big success story.
Take Novavax, the company that got $1.6 billion in taxpayer funds in July 2020.
“That [award] can get us to as many as 100 million doses produced in the United States by, it could be by the fourth quarter of this year and into the first quarter of next year,” Novavax CEO Stanley Erck said at the time.
But after countless delays, it took two years for Novavax to be granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. Since then, just 9,766 shots have been administered in the U.S. as of August 10, according to CDC data.
That’s $163,834 per shot, or $647,249 per fully-vaccinated American. The latest CDC data shows as of August 10, 2,472 Americans are fully vaccinated with Novavax.
Compare that to Pfizer’s 358 million doses administered in the U.S., which comes out to less than $20 per shot.
The Novavax results have punished the company’s bottom line. In the second quarter of 2022, the company reported $186 million in total revenue when analysts expected over $1 billion, according to FactSet. The stock dove 30% after the earnings report.
“I believe we were late to the market, and U.S. vaccination was driven by what was available and shown to work, mRNA vaccines,” Erck said during the earnings call August 8.
The company had hoped that Americans skeptical of newer mRNA technology used in Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines would be open to trying Novavax’s, which is the first protein-based shot cleared for COVID-19 use. Protein-based vaccines are cheaper to manufacture and easier to ship, given they don’t need ultra-cold storage. The technology is also more familiar for many people, used in common vaccines like Hepatitis B.
But again, so far less than 2,500 Americans have been fully vaccinated.
“This production is made possible by my administration’s $1.6 billion award to Novavax,” Trump said in July 2020 while touring a Novavax vaccine manufacturing facility in North Carolina.
So $1.6 billion later, is the taxpayer-funded Novavax bust the Solyndra of the Trump administration?
Solyndra is a solar panel company that took a $535 million loan from the Obama administration’s Energy Department in 2009, only to go bankrupt two years later, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.
“The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra,” former President Barack Obama said in May 2010 during an ill-advised trip to Solyndra’s facility in Fremont, California. Auditors had raised concerns about the company’s financial situation two months before the highly-publicized visit.
Investigators later found that the poster child of Obama’s stimulus plan in 2009 cooked the books to get the loan, which it first applied for under the Bush administration. Experts said at the time that the government repeatedly missed red flags in a hurry to dole out the first loan under the program at the start of Obama’s presidency.
Out half a billion dollars in taxpayer funds, the key difference is Solyndra went belly up in two years. Novavax at least has a vaccine two years in, albeit one few Americans are seeking out.
Novavax said it has COVID-19 vaccines authorized for adults in 43 countries and has shipped 73 million doses globally to date.
“Through continued expansions to our label for adolescents and boosting and our vaccine’s competitive product profile, we are confident it will play an important role in the long-term COVID-19 landscape,” Erck said in a statement.