Seven months into their vaccine rollout, manufacturers are already shifting attention to boosters. Pfizer had been reporting to investors¹ that boosters would likely be needed 6-12 months after initial doses for their vaccine. Moderna is also turning it’s focus toward the fall and boosters.³ In fact, both are already ramping up and preparing for not only boosters, but annual shots similar to flu vaccines.² Pfizer and Moderna are using waning antibody response as their benchmark to predict when boosters would be needed.
The CDC Weighs In
The CDC doesn’t share the same opinion. CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) met on June 23. It was stated they would only recommend booster shots if there’s a demonstrated decline in efficacy, not just a waning antibody response. Boosters may also be recommended if there’s a variant for which current vaccines aren’t sufficient.³
According to Sharon Frey, clinical director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Saint Louis University Medical School, “There’s no evidence against declining protection at this time.”³ Ms. Frey also serves as a member of the ACIP for the CDC.
ACIP chair, Dr. Grace Lee, stated more evidence of breakthrough cases is crucial before recommending a booster shot.³ “I would want greater certainty on the safety data if we’re talking about boosting before it’s clear what the risk data will look like,” Lee said. “If we’re seeing severe breakthrough cases then I think the decision-making moves forward even if there’s uncertainty with the safety data.”³
Boosters and Continuing Demand
In February, Pfizer made public plans to test a third shot and to act as a booster to their original vaccine. The FDA has said vaccines that have been adapted to protect against variants will not be required to undergo the same trials. Experts believe that COVID-19 will become similar in nature to a mild, flu-like illness with variants after the pandemic. Thus, the need for annual boosters similar to flu vaccines.⁴
Annual flu vaccine effectiveness ranges from 10-60% and has raised questions over the years.⁵
The Finances of Vaccines
During the pandemic, and under Operation Warp Speed, Pfizer charged the US government $19.50 per dose of their vaccine. In a call with investors in February, Pfizer’s CFO, Frank D’Amelio told investors that when “pandemic pricing wanes,” an adjustment would be expected. The current price is “not a normal price like we typically get for a vaccine—$150, $175 per dose.”⁶ While those numbers may seem high, the CDC price list for vaccines indicates a wide range.
Pfizer expects to sell $15 billion worth of COVID-19 vaccines in 2021. That would make it the second-highest revenue-generating drug ever.⁷
Whether boosters are needed this fall, or are held off for a bit, it is likely Moderna and Pfizer’s revenue wouldn’t fall once the pricing is adjusted.