- The U.S. government will pay Pfizer and BioNTech $3.2 billion to secure another round of COVID-19 vaccines as the companies prepare to deliver a shot adapted to fight the omicron variant.
- The deal includes 105 million doses of vaccine with an option to buy as many as 195 million more, the companies said Wednesday. It covers adult and pediatric dosages and will include a shot tailored to omicron if cleared for use by the Food and Drug Administration.
- Deliveries will begin as soon as the late summer and will continue into the fourth quarter. If all goes as expected, the U.S. will be able to offer an omicron-targeting vaccine as a free booster for Americans in the fall, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department said.
U.S. officials moved quickly to strike a deal with the companies after expert advisers agreed on Tuesday that the next round of vaccines should include some kind of omicron-fighting component. Pfizer and Moderna have been preparing for months to offer new versions, as has rival Moderna, though none of the new shots were designed to specifically take on the omicron subvariants currently circulating.
Health officials are concerned about a major new wave of infections as omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 become more dominant in the country. Initial lab studies showed that Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine candidates could neutralize the new subvariants, though they worked better against the original omicron strain they were designed to attack. The FDA on Thursday recommended that the next shots drugmakers do roll out should be modified to target BA.4 and BA.5.
Pfizer and BioNTech said they have already begun manufacturing the omicron-adapted vaccines in anticipation of approval so they can ship the shots as soon as possible. They reported positive data on the inoculations on June 25 and shared the research with the FDA before filing a request for emergency use.
The latest deal with the government values Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine at about $30.50 a dose, significantly higher than the $19.50 the companies received under the first supply deal in 2020. Government contracts may continue into 2023, delaying a full commercial launch that would likely come with even higher prices, SVB Securities analyst David Risinger wrote in a note to clients.
To fund the latest purchase and have more money for treatments and vaccines in general, the Biden administration had to shift $10 billion away from COVID-19 response funding. Congress so far hasn’t acted on President Joe Biden’s repeated requests for more money to fight the pandemic.