Why It’s Now ‘Open Season’ For Pfizer-BioNTech Covid Boosters

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overruled its own panel Friday, endorsing booster shots for elderly and otherwise vulnerable adults. But vaccine stocks dipped.


The full CDC will allow certain recipients of the Pfizer (PFE)-BioNTech (BNTX) vaccine to receive a booster shot at six months. That group includes people age 65 and up, and adults with underlying medical conditions.

Late Thursday, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted down booster shots for people with at-risk jobs or living in institutions. But the CDC overruled that. It also endorsed boosters for those groups, which includes health care workers and teachers, as well as residents of prisons.

SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges says the “unprecedented and highly controversial move” will open up booster shots to all Pfizer-BioNTech recipients. Adults merely have to attest they have an underlying medical condition or are at risk of exposure to receive a booster, he said.

“It’s open season for boosters,” Porges said in a note to clients. “We expect vaccination centers, clinics and pharmacies to be swamped with vaccination appointments for ‘the worried well’ in addition to the truly eligible subjects at increased risk such as the elderly and the immunosuppressed or otherwise at high risk.”

Vaccine Stocks Dip

On the stock market today, vaccine stocks slipped. BioNTech stock fell 5.5% to 333.48. Moderna (MRNA) stock fell 5.4% to 430.14. Pfizer stock slipped 0.5% to 43.97.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky noted the challenges of making recommendations based on “complex, often imperfect data.”

“In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good,” she said in a written statement.

Late Thursday, the CDC’s panel debated whether to offer booster shots to at-risk younger adults. Ultimately, the panel voted against boosters for people age 18-64 at risk of exposure due to work or living situation. The CDC flipped that decision.

SVB Leerink’s Porges says the CDC’s decision to overrule its panel could have reverberations for vaccine stocks and booster uptake. The Food and Drug Administration and the CDC usually follow the recommendations of the experts on their advisory committees — but not always.

“For consumers, we think this move will also undermine their confidence in the independence and integrity of the process, and is likely to feed the fire of anti-vaccination rhetoric,” Porges said. “Even outside the U.S., many countries have looked to the CDC as an independent arbiter of data, ethics and evidence, and we believe they too will lose confidence in the institution’s integrity and rigor.”

Other Boosters Soon

For now, the CDC’s recommendations are only for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. But the agencies soon expect to take up the issue of boosters for recipients of shots from vaccine stocks Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ).

Right now, the agencies only support homologous boosting. This means if your initial vaccination series is from Pfizer, your booster should also come from Pfizer. But SVB Leerink’s Porges expects the agencies to examine a “mix-and-match” strategy in the future, also known as heterologous boosting.

“We expect heterologous boosting to be pushed through by the CDC and the administration within a few weeks, which should increase Pfizer’s dominance of the channel even more,” he said.

Porges calls for the vaccine stock to bring in $14.9 billion in fourth-quarter Covid vaccine sales.

Follow Allison Gatlin on Twitter at @IBD_AGatlin.


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