Soriot Declares Pandemic Over: AstraZeneca to Start Charging for Its COVID Vaccine


After a tumultuous year, AstraZeneca is creating a standalone vaccine unit and will begin to charge for its COVID-19 vaccine shot, having previously provided it at cost. PharmaBoardroom looks back at the reputational hits (some fair and some less so) that the firm has suffered over the past 12 months and the role it still has to play in the global vaccination push.


When AstraZeneca was granted emergency approval for its COVID-19 vaccine – primarily developed by Oxford University – in the UK and Europe in late 2020/early 2021, the Anglo-British giant was applauded on its achievement. Not only did AZ lack a history of developing vaccines, but the firm stated its commitment to providing the vaccine at cost, seemingly paving the way for its distribution to low- and middle-income countries globally.


“I am proud to work for a company that has the skills and motivation to be able to react to a pandemic and make a difference, developing this vaccine and distributing it at cost. It showed courage and entrepreneurialism,” said AstraZeneca Switzerland Country President Katrien de Vos earlier this year.


“Embracing the COVID-19 vaccine clearly reflects the courage of the organization and a significant contribution towards changing the course of the pandemic globally. Being able to develop a life-saving vaccine in a short amount of time in partnership with Oxford University has been a huge inspiration for everyone in the company,” added AstraZeneca Singapore Country President Vinod Narayanan.


“As we speak, the AZ vaccine is present in more than 170 countries and over one billion doses have been shipped within a year,” he continued. “The biggest takeaway for me, one that makes me extremely proud to be part of AZ, is the fact that the company decided to bring this vaccine to market at cost while helping to ensure equitable access. As a result, we have been able to provide vaccines to low and middle-income countries that would otherwise not have them.”


However, in the months since then, the company’s reputation has taken a battering. Firstly, concerns were raised over the way it reported trial data, meaning that the vaccine remains unapproved by top regulatory bodies such as the US FDA and Swissmedic.


Secondly, concerns over blood clotting meant that in some European countries where the vaccine had been in use, such as Spain, it was recommended for narrower and narrower age groups before being retired completely.


Thirdly, a row with the EU over alleged breach of contract and supply from the UK – muddied by Brexit uncertainties – did nothing to help AZ’s reputational crisis.


We have to accept that … the virus is becoming endemic. And we’re going to have to learn to live with it

Pascal Soriot, CEO, AstraZeneca


Now the firm is moving to charge for its shot as competitors like Pfizer and Moderna currently do, risking further opprobrium from detractors who point out that the decades of research behind it was 97 percent publicly funded.


While AZ had pledged to continue to sell its shot at cost for the duration of the pandemic, the company – led by French national Pascal Soriot – now appears to be declaring the pandemic over.  “We have to accept that … the virus is becoming endemic. And we’re going to have to learn to live with it, which means in great likelihood regular boosters,” said Soriot on Friday 12th November. “We are moving to an endemic phase and next year is the target for these commercial contracts.”


Soriot added that AZ’s COVID shot was the world’s second biggest by volume, represented 50 percent of the entire supply to COVAX for low- and middle-income countries, and would continue to be supplied to the world’s least affluent countries at cost.


These countries are still lagging far behind in terms of vaccine coverage; the WHO Africa office estimates that just six percent of the continent’s population has been vaccinated thus far, despite rich nations now moving onto vaccine booster shots. Moreover, the British Medical Journal estimates that rich countries are holding an excess of two billion doses, most of which will expire by the end of 2021 and will be discarded.


AZ has moved to create dedicated vaccine unit, making it easier to invest in the shot in the long-term. However, given the aforementioned challenges and the increasingly crowded COVID-19 vaccine field, analysts do not expect vaccines to make up a big chunk of the company’s overall revenue moving forward. AZ made USD 1.1bn from its COVID vaccine in Q3 2021, far behind Pfizer (USD 13bn) and Moderna (USD 4.8bn).

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