The stocks of Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, Merck and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) rose on Monday as the companies prepare to boost their vaccine production and distribute treatment options to low-and-middle-income countries across the globe.
Both Moderna and BioNTech were leading the per-share race by 13:17 UTC on Monday, increasing by 6.31% and 6.84% respectively. Moderna was trading at $280.43 per share while BioNTech traded at $309.57.
J&J, Pfizer and Merck saw more modest increases. Merck’s stock led the way with a 1.33% increase to $81.77 per share while both Pfizer and J&J grew by 1% and 0.25%, respectively.
Pfizer, Moderna and BioNTech’s stocks continued to benefit from the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision on Friday to approve booster doses of the trio’s vaccines for adults aged 18 and over.
The decision followed positive results from a Phase 3 trial that showed the vaccine is 95% effective at preventing hospitalisation or death. The companies said in a joint press release that the trial did not produce any new safety concerns for the vaccine.
Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s CEO, described the FDA’s decision as a “critical milestone.”
“With boosters, more adults will now have the opportunity to help preserve a high-level of protection against this disease,” Bourla said.
Transmission remains high
According to the latest data from the Center for Disease Control, community-level transmission of the Covid-19 delta variant remains high in the US as vaccination rates have plateaued.
Most of the people getting vaccinated are receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech inoculation with over 262 million doses administered to date.
More than 196.3 million people in the US are considered “fully vaccinated” while another 35 million people have received a booster shot, according to the CDC.
Long-term treatment options
The FDA is also expected to approve two long-term treatment options for Covid-19 that Pfizer/BioNTech and Merck have been developing as well.
Merck’s oral pill was approved by UK regulators on 4 November to treat mild-to-moderate cases of Covid-19. It was developed in partnership with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, a privately held company out of Miami, Florida.
The two companies plan to have 10 million treatments ready by the end of the year with 20 million in their pipeline for next year.
Pfizer and BioNTech are also developing a treatment course for Covid-19. Pfizer said a Phase 2/3 study conducted in October showed the treatment option is 89% effective at preventing hospitalisation or death.
Pfizer promising treatment
If approved, the US government has already committed to purchasing 10 million treatment courses beginning in 2021 and throughout 2022 for $5.295bn, according to a press release from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
HHS noted in the release that Pfizer’s “promising treatment” and strong delivery pipeline are why the agency committed to the purchase.
The purchase order is also significantly larger than the 1.7-million dose order HHS placed with Merck in June. Pfizer’s course costs approximately $530 per course compared to $700 for Merck’s.
On top of the strong sales, several vaccine manufacturers have also committed to providing equitable access to their treatments in low-to-moderate income countries.
Pfizer announced last week that it will manufacture a generic version of its antiviral treatment pill, Paxlovid, for distribution in 95 countries around the world, covering up to 53% of the global population.
“Pfizer remains committed to bringing forth scientific breakthroughs to help end this pandemic for all people,” Borula said. “We believe oral antiviral treatments can play a vital role in reducing the severity of COVID-19 infections, decreasing the strain on our healthcare systems and saving lives.”
10% vaccination target
The World Health Organization identified equitable vaccinee access as one of the key reasons that the virus seems to be moving faster than the distribution rate.
For example, WHO found that, in September, 56 countries did not meet the agency’s target of vaccinating 10% of their populations, most of which came from African nations.
WHO data shows that more than 6 billion vaccines have been administered across the globe while global production has reached more than 1.5 billion vaccines per month. The organisation says these figures show vaccine access is not caused by supply, but rather by allocation.
Health equity innovation
In the US, J&J has also committed to improving health care and vaccine access. The company launched its Health Equity Innovation Challenge at the end of September, which commits more than $100m across five years for innovative projects that can close the gap in treatment options for communities of colour.
The Challenge is being piloted in six cities: Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City and Philadelphia.
“At Johnson & Johnson, we are committed to combating racism in whatever form it takes,” Seema Kumar, J&J’s vice president of innovation, said in a statement. “In partnership with the communities where we work and live, we will continue our aim to help find solutions that lower barriers to health and equality.”