Pfizer: No, we're not suddenly cutting our COVID-19 vaccine targets for 2020

With the world's first regulatory approval for a COVID-19 vaccine under its belt, Pfizer is gearing up for the global launch of its mRNA-based vaccine—and with the world watching and other competitors in the wings, any rollout hitch could be a bad omen for Pfizer's investors. Like a supposedly sudden revision to its distribution plan, for instance.

After a bombshell report Thursday from the Wall Street Journal claiming Pfizer and BioNTech suddenly scaled back distribution targets for their mRNA-based coronavirus vaccine in 2020, the drugmaker said those revised plans were nothing new and, in fact, had been laid out last month. In announcements since, the company has quoted the new numbers.

That misinterpretation tanked Pfizer and partner BioNTech's stocks almost immediately. Both companies' share prices dipped 2% in Thursday trading after the report went live; Pfizer's stock was tracking back up slightly in early Friday trading to $40.18, and BioNTech's continued to dip to $115.58. 

Pfizer is planning to distribute up to 50 million doses of its shot, dubbed BNT162b2, by the end of the year, a significant cut from the 100 million doses the drugmaker initially intended. Back in November, those plans were revised due to a slower-than-expected manufacturing scale-up and raw material shortages, a Pfizer spokesman said. 

"Scaling up a vaccine at this pace is unprecedented, and we have made significant progress as we have moved forward in the unknown," the spokesman said in an email. "Additionally, scale-up of the raw material supply chain took longer than expected." 

Pfizer's rollout plans were also hamstrung by a late-stage trial that took longer than expected, the spokesman said, and required more clinical vaccine material than previously anticipated. Despite those early challenges, Pfizer now says that its supply chain and manufacturing network are running at full speed, putting the drugmaker on track to produce and distribute 1.3 billion doses of the vaccine by the end of 2021. 

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