Covid vaccine profits and the strain on supply channels

SUMMARY: Pfizer and Moderna will sell $28 billion of Covid-19 vaccines this year. Pharma companies will make an estimated $40 billion on the global COVID-19 vaccine market this year, which will be split between Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Novavax, and others.

Wall Street has been speculating for a long time on which pharma company is going to make the most from the development of a Covid-19 vaccine. So far the winners are Pfizer and Moderna.

Moderna, maker of one of only two vaccines granted emergency authorizations to prevent COVID-19 in the US, has been shamed with a 2020 “Shkreli Award” by the Lown Institute, a healthcare think tank. The awards, announced annually for four years now, go to “perpetrators of the ten most egregious examples of profiteering and dysfunction in health care.”

According to ars technica “award judges cited Moderna’s pricing of its COVID-19 vaccine, which was developed with $1 billion in federal funding. Still, despite the tax-payer backing, Moderna set the estimated prices for its vaccine significantly higher than other vaccine developers.”

In August, the company set the estimated price range of $32 to $37 per dose, making the two-dose regimen $64 to $74 per person. At the time, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its partner BioNTech—which now have the other US-authorized COVID-19 vaccine—had inked a deal with the US government to supply doses at $19.50 each, for a two-dose regimen of $39 per person. Notably, Pfizer and BioNTech developed their vaccine without any federal funding. Also, Johnson & Johnson had a deal to supply the US government with doses of its vaccine—still in the works—at a rate of $10 per dose.

So let’s be real. Pharmaceutical companies are in business to make money, and if taxpayers have to pay the bill well, then so be it. Moderna executives have already sold significant shares of stock, which will ensure they can retire very, very comfortably.

Supply Issues?

While we keep reading news stories on the number of vaccines produced, one has to wonder about the strain on the supply chain and quality control issues. Can the FDA really control the quality of vaccine orders this big? Can suppliers really ensure high-quality control on ingredients and even bottles?

Pfizer is already having some supply chain issues that will make it more challenging for the company to produce 100 million more doses in the spring. The federal government is negotiating with Pfizer to see how it can help with those manufacturing issues in order to get the additional 100 million doses but under no circumstances should product quality come into question.

NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly asked the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on December 3 about potential supply issues. In part, he responded, “We have the best people who work on logistics in the world ready to deploy this to states. But again, you bring up a very important point. There are multiple steps along the pathway. There will be hiccups in the road. We will be assessing this along the way. But as of right now, I feel confident that when we have Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for a vaccine, we will get these vaccines out into the states very quickly, and then we need to make sure the process works from there.”

Let’s be clear; there is a LOT of money at stake here, and it has been my experience that when there is so much money at stake, corners tend to be cut. However, in vaccines, cut corners could compromise patient safety.

I wonder why the FDA has not hired or dispatched more safety inspectors to plants making Covid-19 doses.

Right now, the biggest challenge is just getting vaccinated. Here in Florida, websites are crashing, and available appointments sell out in a matter of a few minutes when new vaccine doses are scheduled for an appointment.