This year, Pfizer, Inc. and Moderna, Inc. have experienced sharply declining sales of their messenger RNA (mRNA) COVID-19 shots, Comirnaty and Spikevax. Pfizer reported first-quarter (ending Mar. 31, 2023) sales of $3 billion for Comirnaty—down 75 percent from the same period in 2022. It posted second-quarter (ending June 30) sales of $1.49 billion—down 83 percent from last year. Moderna reported first-quarter sales of $1.9 billion for Spikevax—down 69 percent from the first quarter in 2022. It posted second-quarter sales of $293 million—down 94 percent from last year.1 2 3 4 5 6
In 2021 and 2022, Pfizer’s sales of Comirnaty totaled $36.8 billion and $37.8 billion respectively, while Moderna’s sales of Spikevax came to $17.7 billion and $18.4 billion for those years. After the World Health Organization (WHO) and White House declared an end to the COVID public health emergency (PHC) in May of this year, the fear of COVID diminished and the pandemic faded from the public’s daily consciousness.7 8 9 10
Both Pfizer and Moderna appear to have accepted that their “golden era” for COVID-related product sales has passed. At the start of 2023, Pfizer projected sales of Comirnaty to hit $13.5 billion by the end of the year and Moderna projected sales of Spikevax to reach at least $5 billion.
Both Pfizer and Moderna are facing pressure to meet or exceed sales revenue projections for their COVID shots. At the current pace of sales for Comirnaty and Spikevax, both products will likely fail to meet revenue expectations for 2023. To reach its financial target, Pfizer needs sales totaling just over $9 billion for Comirnaty during the second half of the year, which means doubling the money it made from its COVID shot during the first half of the year.
Moderna was much less ambitious in its financial target for its COVID shot this year than was Pfizer and so it is under relatively less sales pressure with Spikevax. Moderna needs $2.807 billion in sales of Spikevax for the second half of the year—only $614 million more than it earned from the product in the first half.
Huge Price Increase for Comirnaty and Spikevax COVID Shots
It’s no wonder that both Pfizer and Moderna are upping the price for Comirnaty and Spikevax to $130 per dose, compared to the previous $30. Recent reports suggest that some people are being charged nearly $200 per dose. Clearly, the companies do not anticipate booming commercial sales of their COVID shots based on their record of safety and effectiveness, and so they feel the need to price gouge the consumer in order to meet their sales revenue goals. When Pfizer and Moderna released their “updated” bivalent versions of Comirnaty and Spikevax last fall, only 17 percent of eligible adults in the United States got them, and this is not likely to change much this fall.1 12 13 14 15
For many different reasons, many Americans seem to have had enough of the COVID shots. If anything, the abusive price hikes by an industry that already has a reputation for being greedy may only serve to alienate more people. Waning consumer interest poses as problem for COVID shot makers who’ve become accustomed to making so much money so easily and in such a short time.
They are faced with trying to figure out how to convince people they still need more COVID shots, particularly when so many people got as many as four shots and still ended up getting infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and coming down with COVID symptoms. It’s a problem made more difficult to solve when now there is an exorbitant price attached to use of a product that fell dramatically short of expectations. 16 17
Finally, how do the COVID shot makers do all of this when the PHE for COVID is long over and most people are not living in constant fear of getting a SARS-CoV2 infection that can sometimes cause serious complications?18 19
Pfizer and Moderna Advertising COVID Shots on TV
One way Pfizer and Moderna can try to increase COVID booster shot sales is to develop clear marketing campaigns like they do for all kinds of other pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines advertised on television, radio and online. Last fall, for example, Pfizer kicked off a series of hundreds of TV advertisements targeting primarily National Football League (NFL) games. An analyst with iSpot, which tracks the business impact of TV and streaming ads, noted:
On the NFL end, Comirnaty is also pretty visible, as one of the 30 most-seen advertisers over the first two weeks of the regular season. It’s by far the most-seen pharma spot during NFL games.20
Meanwhile, Moderna signed on to become a sponsor of the televised U.S. Open tennis tournament in 2022 again this year—the main goal being to raise awareness about Spikevax and its messenger mRNA technology.21 22
Of course, another much more effective (and certainly cheaper) way to market these products is to get the U.S. government to use taxpayer money to widely advertise vaccines for the pharmaceutical industry. This is precisely what the White House and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have begun doing this month, strongly promoting and urging Americans to get the “updated” monovalent Comirnaty and Spikevax shots that target Omicron variant XBB.1.5 approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Sept. 11, 2023.
Both President Biden and the CDC’s new director, Mandy Cohen, MD appear to want play to the public’s residual fears of the ever mutating novel coronavirus by strongly implying that the new COVID shots are very effective in preventing serious illness and death from SARS-CoV-2.23 24 25
Biden Administration Using Fear Again to Promote COVID Shots
“Vaccination against COVID-19 remains the most important protection in avoiding hospitalization, long-term health complications, and death. I encourage all Americans to stay up-to-date on their vaccines,” President Biden said. This is a repeat of what he has said in the past two years, although perhaps more mildly phrased.
He emphasized that people over 65 are especially at risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection complications. “We’re still seeing higher numbers of hospitalizations and frankly, hundreds of people over 65 dying every week. And so we know that they need to be protected. And so those over 65, you know, get out your plan right now and make it make a plan for getting your COVID-19 vaccine,” Dr. Cohen added.23 24
But according to John Moore, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, the new COVID shots are unlikely to be a “game changer.” He believes that fearmongering has distorted the threat posed by the most recent mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that have “turned out to be a real nothingburger.” Dr. Moore believes that “[e]ditorial FOMO drove summer [COVID] surge worries.”26
That acronym, FOMO, which stands for “fear of missing out,” may well describe what those pushing the new COVID booster shots aim to convey to the public this fall to help jack up sluggish product sales for drug companies marketing the expensive shots.26
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1 Hopkins JS. Pfizer Misses Revenue Expectations, Bets on Drug Launches to Ease Shortfall. The Wall Street Journal Aug. 4, 2023.
2 Kim Constantino A. Moderna raises Covid vaccine outlook despite sharp drop in quarterly sales. CNBC Aug. 3, 2023.
3 Kim Constantino A. Pfizer earnings and revenue top expectations despite Covid vaccine sales decline. CNBC May 11, 2023.
4 Kim Constantino A. Pfizer misses revenue estimates, says it may cut costs if Covid product sales continue to disappoint. CNBC Aug. 1, 2023.
5 Leo L, Wingrove P. Moderna sees up to $4 billion in 2023 sales from private market for COVID shots. Reuters Aug. 3, 2023.
6 Lokuwithana D. Moderna posts Q1 2023 beat amid stronger than expected vaccine demand. Seeking Alpha May 4, 2023.
7 Brady E. Moderna’s $12 Billion in 2021 Profit Fueled by COVID Vaccine Sales. Newsweek Feb. 24, 2022.
8 Dunleavy K. Moderna reaped $18.4B in COVID vaccine sales last year, projects at least $5B in 2023. Fierce Pharma Jan. 9, 2023.
9 Dunleavy K. Pfizer warns Comirnaty sales will plummet by nearly two-thirds in 2023. And Paxlovid won’t fare much better. Fierce Pharma Jan. 31, 2023.
10 Kimball S. The Covid pandemic drives Pfizer’s 2022 revenue to a record $100 billion. CNBC Feb. 2, 2023.
11 Erman M. Pfizer expects to hike U.S. COVID vaccine price to $110-$130 per dose. Reuters Oct. 21. 2022.
12 Fishmore M. Renown Doctor Breaks Silence On COVID Boosters. American Insider Sept. 12, 2023.
13 Kansteiner F. Senators blast Pfizer’s proposed COVID vaccine price hike as ‘profiteering’. Fierce Pharma Dec. 14, 2022.
14 Kates J et al. How Much Could COVID-19 Vaccines Cost the U.S. After Commercialization? KFF Mar. 10, 2023.
15 Rex K. “Nightmare,” Some planning to get new COVID-19 vaccine getting bills for nearly $200. CBS News Boston Sept. 19, 2023.
16 Hains T. CDC Director: Vaccines No Longer Prevent You From Spreading COVID. RealClear Politics Aug. 6, 2021.
17 The Wall Street Journal. Vaccines Don’t Prevent Covid. June 26, 2022.
18 Ries J. WHO and US Have Ended COVID-19 Emergency Declarations, What Happens Now? Healthline May 10, 2023.
19 Nirappil F et al. Covid isn’t over, but even the most cautious Americans are moving on. The Washington Post June 25, 2023.
20 Adams B. NFL season sees Pfizer kick off major Comirnaty COVID vaccine ad offensive for teens, boosters. Fierce Pharma Sept. 23, 2022.
21 Doerrer B. Moderna sponsors U.S. Open to raise mRNA awareness. Medical Marketing and Media Aug. 23, 2022.
22 O’Brien J. Moderna reups as U.S. Open sponsor, debuts Arthur Ashe ‘changemakers’ ad. Medical Marketing and Media Aug. 28, 2023.
23 Galvin B. CDC director urges pandemic-weary Americans to get update COVID-19 shot. Fox 5 Atlanta Sept. 15, 2023.
24 Muzafarr M. Joe Biden sends message to Americans on Covid booster shots: ‘Stay up-to-date on vaccines’. The Independent Sept. 13, 2023.
25 News Release. FDA Takes Action on Updated mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines to Better Protect Against Currently Circulating Variants. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Sept. 11, 2023.
26 Allen A. Pfizer and Moderna Are Pushing the New Covid Booster. Should You Get It? The CDC Is About to Decide. KFF Health News Sept. 11, 2023.