The Perfect Enemy | Pfizer CEO says Covid vaccine will remain ‘free for all Americans,’ overlooking indirect costs
December 6, 2022
Read Time:2 Minute

BOSTON — As Pfizer prepares to hike the price of its Covid-19 vaccines, the company’s CEO, Albert Bourla, maintained at a conference this week that the jabs will continue to be “free for all Americans” because insurers are required to pay the extra cost.

“Americans will see no difference,” said Bourla, speaking Wednesday at the STAT Summit. With no copay, the Pfizer vaccine, called Comirnaty, will “be free for them to get, regardless of the insurance they have.”

The U.S. government has thus far paid Pfizer $30 per shot, making the vaccines available to all Americans for free. But with government purchases ending, Pfizer has decided to implement a private-market price in the range of $110 to $130 per dose, starting in 2023.

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There may be no direct financial impact to insured Americans getting the Pfizer Covid shot, but the higher cost borne by insurers will be passed on in the form of higher premiums. David Mitchell, co-founder of the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs, called Bourla’s comments “pharma double talk” in a tweet.

Asked about Pfizer’s efforts to address global health inequities by making the Covid-19 vaccine available globally, Bourla expressed regret that 1 billion doses — sold at cost and shipped to low-income countries — went unused and had to be destroyed.

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“Very few of these 1 billion doses were used,” said Bourla. “Another dimension of health inequities is infrastructure. African countries that were very vocal in the beginning about wanting vaccines, when they were offered the vaccines completely free, at their door, they couldn’t absorb them.”

Asked if Pfizer had a responsibility to ensure the Covid vaccine got into the arms of people living in low-income countries, Bourla said the issue was “everyone’s concern,” but he also pointed more specifically to the World Health Organization. “They had to prepare the ground in these countries, so that when vaccines became available, they could be used,” he said.

Pfizer also provided Paxlovid, its antiviral treatment for Covid, at cost to low-income countries, Bourla said. But the company took further steps, like making Covid tests available and providing other on-the-ground services, to make sure the drug was used. That “infrastructure” effort is now being expanded to encompass all Pfizer medicines, covering 1.2 billion people in low-income countries, Bourla said.

While Pfizer will continue to generate significant revenue from its Covid vaccine and Paxlovid, Bourla said the future growth will come mainly from its research pipeline, which expects 19 launches in the next 18 months, including 10 entirely new products, both drugs and vaccines.

“It’s a very exciting pipeline that will make big differences in people’s lives,” said Bourla.

Last May, Pfizer bought migraine drugmaker Biohaven Pharma for $11 billion, followed in August by a $5 billion deal for Global Blood Therapeutics and its treatments for sickle cell disease. Bourla said Pfizer is still in the buying mood, but at the right price.

Asked if biotech valuations are more appealing now given how much stocks have been punished, he said, “In general they are cheaper, but those that you want to buy, they are not,” Bourla quipped.

Over the last three years, Pfizer has allocated a majority of its capital to research, both internal and external through acquisitions, Bourla added.

“We will continue to do that because in our hands, we believe products become more valuable as we add our capabilities.”