A pharmacist prepares to administer booster shots for COVID-19 during a Chicago Department of Public Health event at the Southwest Senior Center September 9, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson | Getty Images
Three years and billions of Covid vaccinations in the pandemic, Pfizer And Modern say their work is far from over.
The two pharmaceutical companies whose Covid vaccines have become household names are ushering in a new era for their vaccinations that will strengthen their role in protecting public health, but also simplify what people need to do to be able to coexist with the virus.
These include the development of new versions of the vaccines designed to offer broader and longer-lasting immunity to the virus, as well as combination vaccines that protect against Covid and other respiratory diseases in a single dose.
These plans coincide with a broader shift in the Covid pandemic landscape.
The U.S. and global public health emergencies are over, vaccine acceptance and sales growth have slowed, and both Pfizer and Moderna will direct their shots for about $110 to $130 per dose starting this fall sell to healthcare providers The supply of free federal vaccines is expected to run out.
Neither company provided CNBC with an update on the exact private market price of their recordings.
Many of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccine plans may not be public for a few years, and the success of these efforts is not guaranteed.
“One of the greatest things about Moderna is the company’s willingness to make a commitment even when it’s not clear exactly where things are going,” said Dr. Jacqueline Miller, moderna’s director of infectious diseases therapy, told CNBC.
Here’s what Moderna and Pfizer say next for their Covid shots.
Annual Covid vaccinations
Pfizer and Moderna want to keep up with the trend in the US towards annual Covid vaccinations instead of too frequent booster doses.
Regulators are moving to a flu-like model for Covid vaccines, meaning people get a single shot each year, updated annually to target the latest variant, which is expected to circulate in the autumn and winter. A panel of independent advisors to the FDA will meet in June to select which strain of Covid new vaccines should target when they go on sale later this year.
Moderna and Pfizer both told CNBC that messenger RNA technology will allow them to keep up with new Covid variants each year.
This technology, used in both companies’ Covid vaccines, teaches human cells to produce a protein that triggers an immune response against a specific disease.
Miller, who led development of Moderna’s Covid vaccine in 2020, said the benefits of using mRNA had become apparent earlier in the pandemic. These include the ability to quickly ramp up the making of a shot and easily change target variants.
“The vaccine became proof of the value of mRNA in a pandemic when you need to make something fast,” Miller told CNBC. “The speed of this platform – it allows us to get things done three times faster.”
A healthcare worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a immunization clinic at the Peabody Institute Library in Peabody, Massachusetts, on Wednesday, January 26, 2022.
Vanessa Leroy | Bloomberg | Getty Images
dr Pfizer Chief Scientific Officer Mikael Dolsten hopes the annual Covid vaccines will improve public sentiment towards vaccination. He said the public had become increasingly dissatisfied with health regulations in the early stages of the pandemic and “unfortunately, some people see vaccines as part of that.”
Dolsten said an annual schedule could help people see Covid vaccinations as another “very natural part” of health protection and encourage more of them to get vaccinated each year.
“I think of it like introducing seat belts for cars. People didn’t want to wear them at first, but over time they realized how much seat belts protect them. Everyone uses them now,” Dolsten told CNBC. “In a way, the vaccination story needs to be reinterpreted.”
“Next generation” Covid vaccines.
Pfizer’s and Moderna’s Covid vaccines both offer strong protection against the virus, but that immunity can wane after four to six months.
Part of Pfizer’s strategy for moving to an annual Covid vaccination schedule is to develop “next-generation” versions of the vaccine that aim to expand and extend the protection people receive to a full year.
“The protection is still there, but it’s starting to wear off, and we’re working with two different approaches to make it a little bit more like annual durability for the majority of people,” Dolsten told CNBC.
Pfizer and its Covid vaccine partner BioNTech are working on a vaccine that Dolsten says will increase the amount of antibodies a person gets after vaccination by “several times over”.
The vaccine won’t be too different from the company’s current vaccine, which teaches cells to make harmless copies of Covid’s spike protein. The immune system recognizes this protein and makes protective antibodies that help fight off the virus but decrease over time.
The key difference is that next-generation vaccination will teach cells to make copies of an “enhanced” spike protein, generating a far higher level of antibodies that can last for a full year.
“If we increase the antibodies, say by a factor of three, that means they last and protect for a year,” Dolsten said.
The company is working on a second vaccine aimed at boosting T cells, another form of protection that targets and destroys cells infected with Covid.
In addition to the antibodies, Pfizer’s existing vaccination triggers the formation of T cells against the spike protein. T cells shrink more slowly than antibodies, meaning they offer longer-term protection against the virus.
Pfizer is adding another mRNA strain to its new vaccine that will boost the T cell response.
The strain specifically triggers a surge in T cells against other parts of the coronavirus, called non-spike proteins. These T cells, in addition to those generated against the spike protein, will offer protection against “all corners of the Covid virus landscape,” according to Dolsten.
Non-spike proteins also mutate more slowly than the spike protein, meaning any T cells generated against them are likely to protect against a wide range of Covid variants.
Empty vials of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for children against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are pictured at Skippack Pharmacy on May 19, 2022 in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, the United States.
Hannah Beier Reuters
dr Paul Burton, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said the company has its own “next-generation” Covid vaccine that aims to improve vaccine storage and delivery.
The company’s current shot must be kept in an ultra-refrigerated warehouse. Once thawed, the vaccine can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 30 days, per Food and Drug Administration guidelines.
Burton said Moderna’s new shot will be “refrigerator safe,” meaning it will have a longer shelf life in the fridge. According to Burton, the company will achieve this by shortening the length of the mRNA strand in the vaccine.
Vaccination could increase the number of vaccine suppliers around the world, especially in developing countries that may not have freezing capacity.
Moderna is studying the shot in a Phase 3 study, Burton said. The company’s existing Covid vaccine is the only commercially available product.
Pfizer and Moderna are both banking on a new line of combination vaccines designed to offer strong protection against Covid and certain respiratory diseases in a single dose.
Dolsten said there is an increasing need for this type of vaccination as certain changes in society create a “more thriving environment” for infections.
Climate change is driving the Earth’s temperature up. While the population lives longer, it becomes more susceptible to disease as it ages. More and more people are moving within countries and across borders.
Dolsten said these factors contributed to the spread of different diseases, sometimes simultaneously. The USA, for example, experienced what is known as a triple pandemic of Covid, respiratory syncytial virus and flu last winter.
Dolsten said people might not remember, or even feel comfortable, having had three different vaccinations for these respiratory diseases each year. So developing a shot that helps people fight more than one of them at a time will “make life easier for them,” he said.
Bottles of influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus and covid-19 vaccine for vaccination. Vials of flu, rsv and sars cov-2 coronavirus vaccines in medical clinic
Angelp | Istock | Getty Images
Pfizer and BioNTech are developing a vaccine that works against both Covid and the flu. The companies began a phase 1 study for the shot in November and said they expect to launch it in 2024 or later.
Dolsten said the drugmakers are also conducting clinical trials for another vaccine against Covid and RSV. Pfizer initially hopes to get FDA approval of its RSV vaccine for older adults later this month, he noted.
Meanwhile, Moderna’s vaccine against Covid and the flu is in early clinical trials. Another vaccine that protects against influenza and RSV is also at this early stage. Moderna is also developing a triple combination vaccine that is said to work against Covid, flu and RSV at the same time.
Burton said Moderna’s combination vaccines could be available as early as 2025, noting that the company still needs FDA approval for its individual flu and RSV vaccines.
The public health benefits of combination vaccines will be “huge” globally, according to Burton, as Covid, RSV and the flu can be deadly. He added that the convenience of these shots might encourage more people to take them.
“Getting three different syringes for everyone and going to a chain pharmacy a few times can be distressing for people,” Burton told CNBC. “So to be able to get a single 3-in-1 or 2-in-1 shot, we know that compliance and compliance with a single dose is hugely important.”