First-to-market Pfizer expects a whopping $15B from its COVID-19 shot in 2021

Pfizer building
Pfizer laid out its 2021 financial expectations on Tuesday.(Tracy Staton)

More and more COVID-19 vaccines are nearing the market, but mRNA shots from Pfizer and Moderna are still working off a head start in the global rollout. Now, Pfizer has revealed just what that head start could be worth this year.

Short answer: $15 billion. And it could be more.

The company said Tuesday that it's expecting that much in sales from its BioNTech-partnered mRNA shot this year. In last year’s fourth quarter, the vaccine chipped in $154 million. 

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The estimate, unveiled as part of Pfizer's 2021 guidance, is primarily based on doses set to be delivered in 2021 under existing contracts, the company said. The estimate "could change if additional contracts are signed," according to the company's investor presentation.

To put $15 billion into context, Pfizer also markets the bestselling vaccine outside of COVID-19, pneumococcal shot Prevnar 13. That product generated $5.85 billion last year. Pfizer’s entire vaccine franchise pulled in $6.56 billion in 2020. The company is one of the four leading vaccine players worldwide.

RELATED: While Pfizer and Moderna hold the lead, new data from J&J, Novavax show there's 'room for everyone' in the market: analysts 

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech were the first to score COVID-19 vaccine authorizations in developed countries, and Pfizer says it's shipped 65 million vaccine doses worldwide as of Sunday. The company expects to deliver 200 million vaccines to the U.S. by the end of May. 

Based on the new six-dose-per-vial label, expansions at current sites and an expectation by the companies to bring on more manufacturing partners, Pfizer and BioNTech say they can produce 2 billion shots worldwide in 2021. 

Meanwhile, mRNA rival Moderna is also eying megabillions from its COVID-19 vaccine, mRNA-1273. As of mid-January, Moderna had secured $11.7 billion in advance purchase orders from various governments and organizations for the vaccine, and the company was in the process of negotiating more deals. Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in an interview the company could join the ranks of the largest vaccine players by revenue this year. A year ago, Moderna didn't have any approved products. 

RELATED:  The $38B pie: Pfizer, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines set for lion's share of 2021 sales 

The Pfizer guidance comes as the list of coronavirus vaccines with efficacy data has grown longer in recent days. Novavax and Johnson & Johnson posted efficacy results late last week, and Russia’s Sputnik V shot demonstrated strong protection in a phase 3 study analysis published Tuesday in The Lancet. 

While there were caveats to the J&J and Novavax data, ODDO BHF analysts wrote to clients that the results show there’s “room for everyone” in the COVID-19 vaccine market. Still, recent data readouts have outlined the “superior efficacy” profiles for the mRNA shots.  

The ODDO BHF analysts project $13.7 billion in COVID-19 vaccine sales for Moderna's vaccine this year, while a separate team of analysts at SVB Leerink predicts $9.5 billion. 

Another vaccine, from AstraZeneca, is being rolled out in Europe and elsewhere. SVB Leerink analyst Andrew Berens projected $1.9 billion in revenues for the shot in 2021 and $3 billion in 2022. AstraZeneca has pledged to sell the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis during the pandemic. 

Previously, Bernstein analysts predicted multibillion-dollar opportunities for the five leading vaccine players—Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax—in 2021. But they predicted Pfizer and Moderna would be way out ahead of the rest of the pack in coronavirus vaccine revenues.