A high-ranking Pfizer official touted “significant opportunity” for the pharmaceutical giant to increase the price of its COVID-19 vaccine once the spread of the virus shifts from pandemic to endemic, but Pfizer says it’s “too early to speculate.”
Speaking to investors during the virtual Barclays Global Healthcare Conference last week, Frank A. D’Amelio, Pfizer’s CFO and executive vice-president of global supply, said the pharmaceutical giant was selling its vaccines at “pandemic pricing,” indicating that could change once most of the world had received its first dose.
“So the one price that we published is the price with the U.S. of $19.50 per dose. Obviously, that’s not a normal price like we typically get for a vaccine, $150, $175 per dose,” he said.
According to D’Amelio, current demand and current pricing has so far been driven by the “pandemic state that we’ve been in and the needs of governments to really secure doses from the various vaccine suppliers.”
But once that demand dies down, he said factors like efficacy, booster ability and clinical utility will become “very important” and “normal market conditions will start to kick in.”
“We view that as, quite frankly, a significant opportunity for our vaccine from a demand perspective, from a pricing perspective, given the clinical profile of our vaccine,” D’Amelio said.
However, Pfizer has said that it’s too soon to tell what the price of the vaccine could be once the spread of the virus was no longer labelled a pandemic, adding that they were “committed to the principle of equitable and affordable access” of its COVID-19 vaccine around the world.
“We have clearly stated in our public disclosures that we anticipate a pandemic phase that could last into 2022, where governments will be the primary purchasers of our vaccine,” they said in an emailed statement to Global News.
“We recognize the urgent need for people all over the world to receive this vaccine and have accordingly set the price of our vaccine for the pandemic period to encourage broad access, rather than using traditional value-based pricing frameworks.”
The pharmaceutical company’s comments come as countries across the globe ramp up their vaccination campaigns and COVAX, a vaccine alliance initiative backed by the World Health Organization, works to deliver vaccines to low-income countries.
In Canada, the cost of the vaccines is covered by the federal government. Even if the price of the vaccine increases, Health Canada told Global News “COVID-19 vaccines will be free.”
“As more vaccines are made and distributed, we expect to be able to offer free vaccination to every Canadian who wants one,” the agency said in an emailed statement to Global News.
“We know that we live in a global community, so we have committed to making sure low and middle-income economies around the world will also have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine(s). Until we’re all protected, we’re still at risk of a resurgence of illness from COVID-19.”
The federal government has an agreement with Pfizer-BioNtech for up to 76 million COVID-19 vaccines. On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would begin receiving at least one million doses from Pfizer per week between March 22 and May 10.
Kerry Bowman, a professor of bioethics and global health at the University of Toronto, told Global News that D’Amelio’s comments raise some ethical questions.
“Can we really distinguish between what’s an emergency and what’s not? Is that going to be a clear definition or is that always going to be debatable and an element of struggle?” he said.
When asked if there was any point in which it would be ethical to increase the price of a COVID-19 vaccine, Bowman replied “not during a pandemic.”
He said lower-income countries who aren’t able to keep up with rising costs would be at the mercy of the virus, while higher-income countries footing the bill for vaccinations could be forced to make citizens pay for their shots.
“If the price were to really, really take off, we run the risk of some significant global inequalities,” he said.