Coronavirus update: HHS puts vaccine distribution in states' power; Wall Street analysts project lifelong vaccine protection

Anjalee Khemlani
·Senior Reporter
·3-min read

With three vaccine candidates out with a first look at efficacy data, Wall Street is more optimistic about the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.

SVB Leerink analysts upgraded outlooks for Pfizer (PFE), BioNTech (BNTX), Moderna (MRNA) and AstraZeneca (AZN) Tuesday, pointing to the long-term protection that is likely to come from the various candidates.

While health experts are still wary to commit to the durability outlook, analyst Geoffrey Porges said in a note Tuesday, “We now believe that immunity after natural infection will be virtually lifelong and expect recovered COVID cases to need only a single boosting immunization a year or two after their infection to be protected against re-infection for life (similar to immunity after measles or other respiratory pathogens apart from influenza).”

Porges said that takes needing annual vaccines off the table, likely requiring one additional vaccination in a lifetime. A recent study supported a longer protection time, but whether it would be lifelong is still unknown.

“We failed to realize that it’s not like influenza, but more like measles, mumps and rubella,” Porges said.

This means that investment into the vaccines is not going to result in a huge payoff, he added.

Even so, that won’t stop the innovation, Porges said. Pfizer and BioNTech have been criticized for the ultra-cold storage needs, posing a hurdle for countries without the necessary infrastructure. To that, Porges said patience is key.

“Don’t sell the Pfizer program short. They will announce better storage conditions in a matter of weeks,” he said, noting that the company needs to take the time to complete stability testing.

Pfizer’s sheer size as a pharmaceutical company, and as a top vaccine producer, gives the company a leg up against Moderna. But both are using a platform that can be scaled up far more easily, since its chemical-based, compared to the biological process of AstraZeneca.

Doctor in protective gloves & workwear filling injection syringe with COVID-19 vaccine.
Doctor in protective gloves & workwear filling injection syringe with COVID-19 vaccine.

All eyes are now on December 10, when the FDA is set to have a meeting about Pfizer’s emergency use authorization filing. Operation Warp Speed (OWS) is poised to send out vaccines to states within 24 hours after an approval.

The role states will play in distribution was given some clarity Tuesday as OWS and Health and Human Services (HHS) officials held a briefing on the process.

A five-hour meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) Monday revealed a focus on equitable distribution of a vaccine. Porges noted the recommendation to vaccinate essential workers before the elderly and high-risk individuals is interesting yet likely to result in controversy.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar noted that the operation’s distribution plan was not reliant on ACIP’s recommendations, and states would ultimately decide whom to vaccinate first.

"At the end of the day, that is a decision (for) the U.S. government to make, which is where to recommend the prioritization. And the final say, it will be our nation’s governors in implementing the distribution plans, to tell us where to ship, and they will decide (to) whom the vaccines will be given,” Azar said.

The government will be calculating dose distribution on states’ per capita, based on residents over the age of 18, Azar said.

Azar also committed to taking a vaccine as soon as he was allowed to, and said the agency’s top transition official is now in touch with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team.

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