COVID-19 vaccine sales slumping now, but analysts optimistic about rebound later this year

When Johnson & Johnson said Tuesday that it would not project COVID-19 vaccine sales for this year, citing a “global supply surplus” and “vaccine hesitancy,” the news sent a rumble through Wall Street that COVID vaccine sales could drop considerably this year as the world tries to shift from the pandemic to an endemic stage.

But analysts at Cantor Fitzgerald believe that assumption may be premature.

“It’s too early to call,” analyst Louise Chen wrote in a note to clients. “It does look like the phasing of vaccine sales this year could be back-end loaded.”

Cantor Fitzgerald’s faith in the durability of the COVID vaccine market was further bolstered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC’s) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) meeting Wednesday, which highlighted the potential for renewed spread of the virus in the fall and winter along with an increased need for booster shots. 

In addition, the analysts believe market leader Pfizer is “best positioned” to adapt to new strains of the virus and future recommendations that may result.

One of the areas highlighted in the ACIP meeting was current booster hesitancy in the U.S. While Cantor Fitzgerald believes this has limited vaccine sales for Pfizer recently and has adjusted its projection for first-quarter sales (the company presents its earnings next week), there still is the likelihood of a demand surge in the fall. As a result, the analysts aren’t adjusting their overall forecast for 2022 sales.

“Additional boosters in the fall/winter could represent upside to estimates as well,” Chen wrote.

In Wednesday’s ACIP meeting, the experts agreed on the need for continued evaluation of vaccines for the timing of future booster doses. They also specified that preventing severe disease should be the primary goal of future booster efforts as opposed to preventing infection and transmission. They prioritized the need for simpler communications to optimize uptake of boosters and the importance of vaccines evolving as the virus evolves.

Cantor Fitzgerald said to expect the CDC to reconvene their experts in approximately two months.

“We expect more focused discussions to take place on the need/framework for additional booster doses ahead of a potential fall/winter surge,” the analysts wrote.

Data presented during Wednesday’s meeting only reinforced the superiority of mRNA vaccines over their adenovirus counterparts—both as an initial series and in booster use—the analysts noted. Additionally, the data showed booster doses increase protection across all outcomes, with no added safety concerns.