Commentary

U.S. Will Pay Pfizer, BioNTech $1.95B For Promising COVID-19 Vaccine

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. approaches four million, the U.S. government yesterday announced that it will pay Pfizer and German biotech company BioNTech $1.95 billion for a vaccine they have been developing that will soon enter late-stage testing. The deal with the Dept. of Health and Human Service and the Defense Dept. is for 100 million doses of the vaccine by December, and then up to an additional 500 million doses.

“The contract is part of what the White House calls the Warp Speed project, an effort to drastically shorten the time it would take to manufacture and distribute a working vaccine. So far, the United States has put money into more than a half dozen efforts, hoping to build manufacturing ability for an eventual breakthrough,” Noah Weiland, Denise Grady and David E. Sanger report  for The New York Times.

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As researchers in Europe and China also race to produce a vaccine, “the Pfizer contract, an agreement to ensure the pharmaceutical giant has a market for its work, is the biggest splash yet by the Americans. No vaccine has yet been developed, and it is not clear whether the Pfizer version will work,” they caution.

The deal “prices each dose of the experimental vaccine at $19.50,” Josh Nathan-Kazis reports  for Barron’s, but “the vaccine would be available to the American people at no cost,” according to the HHS news release  announcing the agreement. “As is customary with government-purchased vaccines, healthcare professionals could charge insurers for the cost of administering the vaccine,” it adds.

However, “as manufacturers around the world race to develop COVID-19 vaccines, a parallel effort has begun to figure out who in the United States should get them first -- and how those doses should be distributed,” Helen Branswell observes  for Stat. “But already the effort is being complicated by tensions over who gets to make those critical decisions, with some groups feeling sidelined and multiple new actors crowding the stage.”

“It seems to me like we’ve just assigned four different air traffic control towers to land the same plane…,” Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy, tells Branswell. “It’s not clear to me who will make the final decision and how that process will unfold.”

“Preliminary data released in a pre-print paper this week by Pfizer and BioNTech said its COVID-19 vaccine appeared safe and elicited antibody and T cell immune responses in a Phase 1/2 trial. However, more research is needed; Pfizer and BioNTech said they could start a Phase 3 trial of the vaccine in late July if they receive regulatory approval,” Naomi Thomas   writes  for CNN Health.

“Pfizer is seeking regulatory review as early as October 2020 and aims to manufacture up to 100 million doses by the end of 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021,” Catherine Thorbecke writes  for ABC News.

“As part of its Operation Warp Speed program, the U.S. has already struck agreements with other vaccine developers to secure doses, including a $1.2 billion deal  with AstraZeneca PLC for at least 300 million doses of a vaccine developed by University of Oxford researchers. A $1.6 billion agreement  with Novavax Inc. will fund clinical studies of its experimental vaccine and establish large-scale manufacturing of doses,” Jared S. Hopkins and Chris Wack report  for The Wall Street Journal.

“The agreement with Pfizer and BioNTech is the largest from the U.S. so far to secure COVID-19 vaccine supplies. It won’t fund any research and development, according to the companies, unlike other deals that helped pay for testing and the scale-up of manufacturing capacity,” they add.

“Developing a safe and effective vaccine is seen as crucial to curbing the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 14.9 million people around the world and killed at least 617,200 people, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University,” Will Feuer points out  for CNBC.

“While the companies and government race to deliver a successful vaccine, regulators and company officials have assured the public and members of Congress that they will not sacrifice on safety. All that’s at risk, they say, is money,” Feuer adds.

Speaking of which, shares of Pfizer surged 5% after the announcement, including nearly 36,000 Robinhood day traders adding shares in 24 hours, Carmen Reinicke reports  for Markets Insider.

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