Millions of doses of Pfizer's Paxlovid will go to waste in UK, EU as COVID demand plummets

On the heels of a major Paxlovid inventory write-off in the United States, many more doses of Pfizer's COVID-fighting antiviral are going to waste overseas.

By the end of February, the value of leftover courses headed for the bin will reach $2.2 billion in Europe, according to London-based life sciences analytics firm Airfinity.

At the end of November, more than 1.5 million courses of Pfizer’s Paxlovid had expired unused in various European countries, Airfinity said in a new report. The total tally of expired courses in Europe is expected to hit 3.1 million by the end of next month, representing a value of $2.2 billion, the analysts wrote.

Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, an estimated 1 million courses have expired so far at a cost of $700 million, according to Airfinity. Another 550,000 are due to expire by the end of February, followed by 650,000 more expired Paxlovid courses at the end of June in the U.K.

In all, the firm expects about $1.5 billion worth of Paxlovid courses will expire in the U.K. by midyear.

“Governments were keen to buy the highly efficacious antiviral and had a difficult challenge of estimating demand at a critical stage in the pandemic,” Airfinity life science analyst Marco Gallotta said in a statement. “This doesn’t necessarily mean that higher uptake wasn’t desirable or could have saved lives and hospitalizations, but the reduction in testing has reduced demand.”

Aside from testing downturns, lower rates of COVID-19 infection in 2023 slashed demand for Paxlovid and led countries to accumulate excess stockpiles of the antiviral, Airfinity pointed out.

While Pfizer worked with regulators to extend the drug's approved shelf life, a company spokesperson noted that “expiry and destruction of doses can be an unavoidable consequence of a pandemic situation."

The course expirations are a “natural result” of manufacturers and governments working together to address a public health crisis, Pfizer's spokesperson said.

Paxlovid first came to market at the beginning of 2022. For that entire year, the drug brought home sales of $19 billion. But the antiviral’s fortunes experienced a dramatic downturn in 2023, with Pfizer previously projecting a 95% sales drop for the product last year.

Things haven’t been much better in the United States, where Pfizer took down the bulk of its Paxlovid orders.

Back in the third quarter, Pfizer recorded $5.6 billion in coronavirus-related inventory write-offs and other chargers, plus a $4.2 billion revenue reversal tied to the return of some 7.9 million Paxlovid doses from the U.S. government.