Prevnar 13 lags amid COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, but Pfizer sees a way to boost the franchise

Pfizer HQ
Pfizer is planning a study to test the co-administration of a COVID-19 vaccine booster with its 20-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine candidate. (By Norbert Nagel, Mörfelden-Walldorf, Germany (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Pfizer’s pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar 13 has long been the world's bestselling vaccine, but that's set to change in 2021 thanks to the company's own COVID-19 shot. As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout hits its stride, Pfizer's key Prevnar franchise is slumping.

During the first three months of the year, Pfizer's Prevnar 13 sales fell 11% to $1.28 billion. In the U.S., which is well underway with its COVID-19 vaccination push, the decline was more dramatic: Prevnar sales fell 20% stateside, thanks to a 57% decline in adults and a 6% drop in children.

Why the declines?

COVID-19 continued to put a damper on regular doctor visits for adults. Plus, many people started receiving COVID-19 vaccines, limiting the other shots they could get. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people don’t get other vaccines within two weeks of their COVID-19 shots.

Meanwhile, Pfizer blamed its lower sales in kids on pandemic disruptions, as well as lower year-over-year birth rates.

RELATED: Ready to square off with Pfizer in next-gen pneumococcal vaccines, a Merck exec says competition's a good thing

But with COVID-19 boosters looking increasingly necessary, Pfizer has co-administration of vaccines in its sights. The company has a 20-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in the hopper, 20vPnC, up for an FDA decision in June. The company says it plans to run a safety and immunogenicity study on the co-administration of that shot and a COVID-19 booster dose. 

Results from that study are expected in the third quarter, with the potential to sway the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices' guidance on the co-administration of Prevnar 13 and Pfizer-BioNTech's pandemic shot, too, the company said.

Pfizer isn’t the only drugmaker to see its bread-and-butter vaccine business slip during the pandemic. Facing similar holdups from the U.S. vaccination push, Merck reported that sales of its HPV shot Gardasil fell 16% to $917 million in the first quarter of 2021. The company’s polysaccharide pneumococcal vaccine Pneumovax 23 slumped 33% to $171 million.

RELATED: Merck pulls close to Pfizer in next-gen pneumococcal vaccine race as FDA fast-tracks 15-strain vaccine

GlaxoSmithKline, for its part, blamed COVID-19 vaccine rollouts for a "significant disruption" to its vaccine business in Q1. Sales of the company's shingles vaccine Shingrix plummeted nearly 50% versus the same quarter last year. Still, GSK's pharma president, Luke Miels, called the sales slump a “timing issue," noting that the company expects Shingles revenues to rebound later this year.

Meanwhile, Pfizer didn't talk much about its long-running Prevnar vaccine franchise on its first-quarter earnings call Tuesday as analysts homed in on COVID-19. 

The vaccine generated about $5.9 billion in 2020 according to Pfizer's annual report. In the U.S., Prevnar reeled in some $2.9 billion for the full year.