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AstraZeneca shifts away from nonprofit model for its COVID-19 vaccine, except when selling to poor countries

November 12, 2021, 11:10 AM UTC

AstraZeneca will start making a profit on some sales of its COVID-19 vaccine. It codeveloped the jab with Oxford University, and as part of that deal it had promised to sell doses “at cost.” But now it is transitioning away from that model when selling to richer countries.

In its third-quarter results Friday, AstraZeneca said the vaccine had had slightly negative effects on earnings throughout this year, though the effect turned mildly positive in the last quarter. Its shares fell nearly 4% after it delivered the results.

“The company is now expecting to progressively transition the vaccine to modest profitability as new orders are received,” AstraZeneca said in the results announcement. “COVID-19 vaccine sales in Q4 2021 are expected to be a blend of the original pandemic agreements and new orders, with the large majority coming from pandemic agreements.”

A company spokesperson said AstraZeneca still needed to deliver hundreds of millions of doses at no profit this year, and for-profit sales would commence in earnest during 2022. As per the Oxford agreement, low-income countries will still be able to buy the vaccine at cost, but otherwise an “affordable pricing model” would be applied to new contracts, repeat orders, and orders for booster shots.

The Financial Times reported in late 2020 that the deal allowed AstraZeneca to declare the pandemic over at the start of July this year. It has not yet done so, but CEO Pascal Soriot said in a Friday earnings call that AstraZeneca saw COVID-19 as moving into an endemic phase.

The firm said in its results statement that it expected early profits from vaccine sales, during the current quarter, to offset development costs for AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 antibody treatment.

Joshua Mahony, senior market analyst at IG, said in a note that investors have shown “little enthusiasm for [AstraZeneca’s] plan to shift into a strategy of ‘modest profitability’ for their vaccine product,” and are “clearly looking for the firm to boost the earnings outlook after EPS fell short of expectations.”

Vaccine rivals

While AstraZeneca has shunned vaccine profits until this point, many of its rivals have not. Pfizer hasn’t revealed precisely how profitable its vaccine is, but it’s on track to pull in $36 billion in revenues from the vaccine this year. AstraZeneca’s revenues from the vaccine in the first three quarters of the year amounted to $2.2 billion.

Moderna, the company that has been most reluctant to boost vaccine production for poor countries, could make as much as $14 billion in profits from its vaccine this year, according to some analyst estimates. It codeveloped that vaccine along with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and is now fighting to ensure that NIH scientists are not credited as inventors on a genetic-sequencing patent associated with the jab.

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