The drug companies Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna are poised to make billions of dollars from Covid-19 booster jabs this autumn, with analysts estimating that sales could rival the $6bn-a-year market for seasonal flu vaccines.
The UK government is expected to announce details of its booster programme in the coming days, based on formal advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, but the health secretary, Sajid Javid, has suggested the over-50s could be offered a dose along with their winter flu jabs.
The UK is expected to join France and Germany in offering follow-up doses from September. The US authorities on Friday approved a third dose for those with compromised immune systems, and Israel and Chile have begun administering boosters to their elderly citizens.
However, health experts are warning that many more people around the world will die of Covid if western countries prioritise boosters for their own populations instead of sharing them with the rest of the world.
Moderna, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have already inked more than $72bn (£52bn) in sales for this year alone, in deals for supplying follow-up shots and also the initial two doses for those being inoculated for the first time in less wealthy countries.
Analysts polled by data group Refinitiv have forecast revenue of more than $6.6bn for the Pfizer/BioNTech shot and $7.6bn for Moderna in 2023, mostly from booster sales. They expect the annual market to settle at about $5bn or higher eventually, with additional drugmakers competing for those sales.
They are likely to include Maryland-based Novavax, which has just struck a deal with the EU to supply up to 200m doses of its vaccine, which is yet to be approved by the EU’s drugs regulator. France’s Sanofi and the UK drugmaker GSK are also working on a vaccine, which they hope will be ready by the end of the year.
Britain’s AstraZeneca and the US firm Johnson & Johnson are collecting more data on boosters of their vaccines. New jabs from Novavax, Sanofi and Germany’s CureVac could also be used as boosters, assuming they are approved by regulators.
Damien Conover, a healthcare analyst at Morningstar, said: “A lot of these firms aren’t even in the market yet. I think within a year’s time, all these companies will have booster strategies.”
The jabs have allowed a return to a more normal life in western countries, but have also hugely benefited their makers.
The market value of Nasdaq-listed BioNTech, which was a small German drug developer before the pandemic, has soared to $92bn, catapulting it into the top 10 most valuable German companies, while Massachusetts-based Moderna has made its first profit ever on the back of its vaccine.
Vaccine makers argue that booster shots are needed due to evidence of waning antibody levels after six months and rising infection rates in countries hit by the Delta variant.
But the programmes are controversial. The World Health Organization has called a halt to all boosters until the end of September, saying supplies should be safeguarded for poorer countries that have yet to inoculate significant numbers of citizens.
“Large-scale boosting in one rich country would send a signal around the world that boosters are needed everywhere,” they write in the Guardian. “This will suck many vaccine doses out of the system, and many more people will die because they never even had a chance to get a single dose.”