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Should the U.S. Have Bought More Doses of Pfizer's COVID Vaccine?

Reports emerged recently that the Trump administration turned down an opportunity to secure more doses of Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) and BioNTech's (NASDAQ: BNTX) coronavirus vaccine, BNT162b2. In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on Dec. 9, 2020, Healthcare and Cannabis Bureau Chief Corinne Cardina and writer Keith Speights discuss what the government was probably thinking and whether the decision could cause problems in the near future.

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Corinne Cardina: The next headline is related to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine candidate, and the U.S.'s contract with those companies. In July, they signed a contract that the companies will provide 100 million doses should they receive the green light from the FDA. That contract came with an option for 500 million more doses, and it's signed these contracts with a lot of different companies involved in vaccine development. At that point, they weren't sure who is going to be first across the finish line. These doses are from the first allotment of Pfizer and BioNTech, so the first ones to roll off the factory.

But the headline recently is that President Trump's administration declined to secure doses for the U.S. from the second allotment to the tune of 100 million more doses, and these would have been distributed in the second quarter of 2021, so April, May, and June. Can you tell us what you think about this headline? Is this important or just something that investors don't need to worry about?

Keith Speights: No. I think it could be important. This is one of those questions where the correct answer is, it depends.

The logic was sound. What Operation Warp Speed was doing was, they were trying to diversify, which is a smart move. They were trying to spread these supply deals across multiple companies, which they did. They signed supply deals with not only Pfizer and BioNTech. They had deals with AstraZeneca (NASDAQ: AZN), with Moderna, with Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), with Novavax (NASDAQ: NVAX), with Sanofi. Most of those deals were for 100 million doses initially. The AstraZeneca deal was bigger; it was a 300 million-dose deal.

There's no problem with that. That makes sense because there was no guarantee which of these vaccines might or might not be successful. So spreading the supply agreements across multiple companies made on an awful lot of sense.

The concern, I think, though, is that Pfizer came to the U.S. government and said, "Do you want to exercise our option to get more doses?" My understanding, Corinne, is that they did this after the efficacy of now Pfizer's vaccine was known. It's really surprising to me that the U.S. government didn't go ahead and increase its dosage, the number of doses that it's buying after knowing that efficacy. Several other countries have increased their doses. Canada for example, has increased their doses.

That's a little surprising, knowing the efficacy. It might not be a problem. I mean, honestly, if all these other vaccines pan out and have high efficacy and they're safe, then we'll be covered. The U.S. population is around 330 million. If you're looking at a two-dose vaccine, that means we need 660 million doses, and the total of these contracts is for 800 million doses. Maybe we'll be OK.

But what if AstraZeneca doesn't win approval? What if Johnson & Johnson's vaccine doesn't win approval or Novavax's? Then we could be in for a problem there. This could be an issue that comes back to bite the U.S. government, that they didn't go ahead and secure more doses of Pfizer's vaccine.

Cardina: Absolutely. So "we shall see" is the answer there.

Corinne Cardina has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Keith Speights owns shares of Pfizer. The Motley Fool recommends Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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