Pfizer eyes four-fold price hike for COVID vaccine in private US market

With uptake slow in the United States for COVID-19 booster shots that the government supplies for free, what will a 400% price increase do to demand for the jab?

That was the question Thursday when Pfizer revealed during an investor call that it is considering charging a private-market price between $110 and $130 per dose for its COVID shot Comirnaty, which was co-developed by BioNTech.

The new price will take effect sometime in 2023—likely in the first quarter—when the U.S. exhausts its stockpile of COVID vaccines and transitions to a commercial model, Pfizer said.

Since vaccines became available in the U.S., the government has footed the bill and provided them for free. In the last supply contract the U.S. signed with Pfizer and BioNTech in June of this year, the companies charged $30.48 per dose, which was an increase from a $24 price in July of 2021 and $19.50 per dose in July of 2020.

“Based on our current understanding, when we enter a traditional commercial model, anyone with commercial or government insurance who is eligible to be vaccinated should be able to access the vaccine without any out-of-pocket payments,” Angela Lukin, Pfizer’s U.S. president of global primary care, said during the call.

In a note to investors, Berenberg Capital Markets backed up the claim, saying its research indicated the same.

One of the reasons for the increase, Pfizer said, is that it will provide vaccines in a single-dose vial as opposed to the current multi-dose vials. This change is because of “consumer preference,” Lukin said.

The price is not out of line with other vaccines that are provided to adults. It is more than what CVS, for example, charges for a flu shot ($50 or $95), but is less than many other vaccines including Pneumovax 23 ($141), hepatitis ($145), meningitis ($179), shingles ($205) and HPV ($261).

Moderna did not respond immediately to a question about how much it plans to charge for its COVID-19 vaccine Spikevax.

In justifying the price, Pfizer mentioned its “50/50 gross profit split” with BioNTech and the reinvestment cost as the company continues to beef up manufacturing and develop the vaccine as the virus evolves.

Lukin said that upon commercialization there are a “number of factors of uncertainty which make it difficult to predict uptake.” But she said that the company has observed that uptake of its booster this fall has roughly mirrored that of the flu vaccine. She added that co-administration of flu and COVID shots has more than doubled to 40%.

Berenberg said it is “cautiously optimistic” about vaccine demand in 2023.

“While it will take time for the price and volume dynamic to play out in the market, we remain positive on the long-term revenue potential of the COVID-19 vaccine,” wrote Berenberg analyst Zhiqiang Shu, Ph.D.

Pfizer’s range surprised Wells Fargo analyst Mohit Bansal, who expected a $50 price tag. But he told Reuters that it could add $2.5 billion to $3 billion in annual revenue for the company.