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Moderna CEO: 2024 is year of growth, with 2023 transition in rearview

Moderna (MRNA) posted a surprise beat in its full-year 2023 earnings, with its COVID-19 vaccine sales topping $6.8 billion, just above the company's guidance of $6 billion.

The full-year results were still significantly less than the $18 billion posted the prior year, when the pandemic revenues were still rolling in. For 2024, Moderna has estimated revenues of $4 billion.

CEO Stéphane Bancel credits the year's results with ongoing demand for the company's COVID vaccine, despite a waning market in the post-pandemic world.

"Last year was a transition year. We right-sized manufacturing, took a big write-off, mostly non-cash, in the fall, and now I think we're off to the races. The objective this year ... is to increase vaccination rates," Bancel told Yahoo Finance.

FILE - A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is displayed on a counter at a pharmacy in Portland, Ore. on Dec. 27, 2021. The Biden administration said Friday it has reached an agreement to buy 66 million doses of Moderna’s next generation of COVID-19 vaccine that specifically targets the highly transmissible omicron variant, ensuring enough supply this winter for everyone who wants the upgraded booster. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)
A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is displayed on a counter at a pharmacy in Portland, Ore. on Dec. 27, 2021. (Jenny Kane/AP Photo, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The company took a few hits last year from unused COVID-19 doses it had to take back from the US government, as well as right-sizing its manufacturing and physical footprints.

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But despite a slowing market, Bancel said he still sees a future for COVID vaccines. He says the elderly are particularly vulnerable every year and may be forgoing COVID shots, but are still getting their flu vaccines.

"We don't have enough people getting their shot. They have to understand, [they have] five times more chance of getting hospitalized" compared to those who get vaccinated,  Bancel said, adding that is particularly true for individuals with multiple complicating diseases that make them more vulnerable.

But the risk goes beyond the elderly, as the effects of long COVID — that is, symptoms of the disease that persist beyond recovery of the infection — have been resulting in an increase of long-term unemployment. Bancel says he wants to help avoid that in the future by ensuring companies are more aware of the benefits of vaccination.

Meanwhile, Moderna is looking to launch its RSV vaccine for older adults this year, and is expecting an FDA decision on the product by May 12. It would join competitors GSK (GSK) and Pfizer (PFE), which launched their own RSV vaccines last year in the same population.

In addition, the company is looking for clinical trial results on its combination flu and COVID vaccine and continuing its study of a cancer vaccine in partnership with Merck (MRK).

Moderna shares were up nearly 9% Thursday following the results, but are down nearly 40% in the past year.

Anjalee Khemlani is the senior health reporter at Yahoo Finance, covering all things pharma, insurance, care services, digital health, PBMs, and health policy and politics. Follow Anjalee on all social media platforms @AnjKhem.

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