By Jared S. Hopkins and Peter Loftus
Pharmaceutical companies are split on how they would price their potential Covid-19 vaccines, with some pledging to members of Congress Tuesday that they wouldn't seek a profit from the shots while others indicated that they would.
During a hearing of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, conducted by remote video, officials from companies such as AstraZeneca PLC and Pfizer Inc. that have some of the most advanced vaccine candidates in development, expressed differences in how prices would be set for their vaccines if they are proven safe and approved for use, but they didn't offer pricing details.
Officials from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson said they would sell their vaccines at the cost of production, at least until the novel coronavirus pandemic subsides. Moderna Inc. and Merck & Co. executives said they would set prices exceeding their manufacturing costs.
An executive from Pfizer, which has said it expects to make a profit from a successful Covid-19 vaccine, suggested the company wouldn't charge too much for the vaccine it is developing with partner BioNTech SE, saying the price would reflect the "extraordinary times" of the pandemic.
As the most advanced vaccine candidates enter final stages of testing this month, their cost has emerged as an increasingly important and sensitive issue for manufacturers of the shots, governments and private insurers expected to pick up the tab, and investors.
Pricing of the vaccines could fuel long-running criticism by doctors, patients and lawmakers of pharmaceutical industry pricing practices, or blunt it.
"Ensuring the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines is critical, but it will mean nothing if the price is a barrier to all Americans getting it," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) said during the hearing.
Ms. Schakowsky said several of the companies have received federal funding for coronavirus vaccine projects.
Pharmaceutical companies haven't said what they plan to charge, but analysts say drugmakers could earn billions of dollars.
The private-sector cost for flu shots ranges from about $16 to $25 per dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Covid-19 vaccines could cost between $50 and $100 per course in the U.S. and Europe, Jefferies & Co. analyst Michael Yee estimated in a recent research note. Moderna, he said, could ring up $2 billion in sales from its vaccine in its first year.
On Monday, researchers from the University of Oxford and partner AstraZeneca as well as Pfizer reported data from early-stage studies showing that their vaccines generated immune responses and were safe.
Moderna recently reported positive results from an early study of its vaccine, which is scheduled to begin final-stage testing this month.
At Tuesday's hearing, Moderna President Stephen Hoge said the company wouldn't sell its vaccine at cost. He said the federal funding Moderna has received is supporting research and development, and Moderna hasn't signed a supply contract with the government.
Julie Gerberding, Merck's chief patient officer, said its coronavirus vaccine wouldn't be available until next year at the earliest. She said the company hasn't determined what the price would be, but Merck wouldn't sell it at cost.
U.K.-based AstraZeneca would price the 300 million doses it pledged in an agreement with the U.S. government on a not-for-profit basis, said Dr. Mene Pangalos, executive vice president, BioPharmaceuticals R&D.
Macaya Douoguih, head of clinical development and medical affairs at J&J's vaccine unit, said the company would sell the vaccine at a not-for-profit price during the pandemic emergency. The company's vaccine is slated to begin human testing this month.
Pfizer Chief Business Officer John Young said individuals shouldn't have to pay anything toward the cost of a vaccination, but he didn't say how much the company plans to charge governments or insurers for its shot.
"We'll price our potential vaccine consistent with the urgent global health emergency that we're facing," Mr. Young said. He said Pfizer plans to apply for an emergency use authorization in October if its vaccine is proven to be safe and effective.
Write to Jared S. Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org and Peter Loftus at email@example.com
Corrections & Amplifications
This article was corrected at 8:13 p.m. ET because the original version misspelled Rep. Jan Schakowsky's last name as Schakowksy in one reference.