U.S. to end purchase of COVID-19 vaccines as industry pivots to commercial market

Vaccine makers have been working on a transition to a commercial market in the U.S. by next year, White House COVID-19 response team coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha on Tuesday said the US government will stop buying treatments, tests and vaccines by this fall.
"My hope is that in 2023 you will see the commercialization of almost all of these products. Some of that will actually start this fall, in the coming days and weeks. You're going to see the commercialization of some of those things," Jha said at an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Tests are already available in pharmacies, grocery stores and online, and treatments - those that remain effective - are being launched for 2023.
Of the four vaccines available in the US, only two have regulatory approvals for marketing: Moderna (MRNA) and Pfizer/BioNTech (PFE/BNTX).
Both companies received US government orders for booster cans this fall and plan to transition only after those cans are delivered -- but haven't finalized details such as the price of the cans, coverage by insurers and details of how the logistics will transition into the government partnership .
By comparison, Moderna said it's already working towards commercialization.
“The commercial organization has already worked with commercial payers and the distribution channel, both channel distributors and key pharmacies, to anticipate this shift. Internationally, we expect health authorities to remain major buyers of vaccines, but we are also identifying markets where there may be a private commercial market," Arpa Garay, chief commercial officer, said during a conference call on the results in this month.
A nurse from the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center prepares a syringe with a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination facility adjacent to Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, July 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Novavax (NVAX), which has just received emergency use approval and is seeking approval for booster vaccination in adults, and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) do not have approval.
Novavax said it aims to target full approval by the end of 2022 and that pricing will be "similar to the high-priced influenza market in the United States."
J&J has faced slacking demand in recent months as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned of possible blood clot risks and advised using Moderna and Pfizer doses to increase protection against emerging variants. J&J did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Insurers are awaiting guidance from the government, as well as the official end of the public health emergency, which is scheduled to expire Oct. 13 -- and have 60 days' notice if the Biden administration intends to lift it. All signs point to a further extension that would maintain coverage and rules for vaccines, treatments, testing, and even regulations for telemedicine and other pandemic-driven policy and operational changes.
But once the emergency declaration is lifted, it opens the floodgates to myriad complexities. It remains unclear who will pay the costs and co-payments out of pocket, including through Medicare. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
However, with Congress unwilling to walk away from ongoing funding, the US faces a potential vaccine availability cliff. Currently, the US has ordered adult booster doses in the fall, but not enough for everyone.
The government has ordered 105 million doses of Pfizer for delivery by the end of 2022, with an option to purchase an additional 195 million and 66 million doses of Moderna by the end of 2022. The 171 million doses are about two-thirds of the more than 250 million needed to give every adult an extra boost.
Follow Anjalee on Twitter @AnjKhem
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