Wednesday 7 April 2021 1:09 pm

Big Pharma: How much will companies make off their Covid vaccines this year?

There’s money to be made in vaccines. Before the pandemic, US pharmaceutical firm Moderna had never made a profit and employed just 830 staff. This morning, its $30-a-dose Covid vaccine was administered to the first patient in the UK, after widespread distribution across the States.

On the same day, Stéphane Bancel, the French chief executive of Moderna, joined Forbes’ World Billionaires List for the first time, with a net wealth of $4.3bn. 

So too did Uğur Şahin, one half of the married couple behind Biontech. Less than a year after the first Covid case was identified in Wuhan, Şahin’s firm developed a Covid vaccine in partnership with Pfizer, becoming the first coronavirus jab in the world to be administered outside of a medical trial. He is now worth $4bn. 

Big Pharma has cashed in on the global race for a vaccine and seen its reputation upholstered. But there are vast disparities in how much each pharmaceutical firm will profit from their Covid jabs this year.

Both Biontech and Moderna will make huge gains. But other drugmakers, such as the Anglo-Swedish firm Astrazeneca and US pharma giant Johnson & Johnson, have pledged to provide their vaccines on a not-for-profit basis until the end of the pandemic. 

Here’s how much each pharma company is set to gain from their Covid vaccines this year:


US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has pledged to split costs and profit margins equally with German firm Biontech on their Covid vaccine. Pfizer announced last month that it expects to make $15bn (£10.9bn) off its coronavirus vaccine this year based on current deals. 

But that could be higher if the firms manage to increase their total orders. The Pfizer/Biontech vaccine comes in at around $38 for two doses — making it one of the priciest jabs amongst the global portfolio. So far, countries around the world have placed orders for around 1.28bn doses of the vaccine. But as distrust for the Astrazeneca jab amplifies across Europe, the firms might just gobble up a wider share of the market. 

And, as with most of the Covid vaccines, that’s only taking into account the two doses required for current Covid variants. If booster shots are required for new mutations, the $15bn figure could catapult.  

Share price change over the past year

Pfizer: +1.13%

Biontech: +157.1%


The Moderna vaccine only hit UK shores for distribution today, but it has been a major driver behind the US’ rapid immunisation programme. The drug was first rolled out in America in December, with President Joe Biden’s order for 600m doses almost enough to vaccinate the entire US population.

Moderna has said it expects sales of $18.4bn (£13bn) this year — far higher than the $11.2bn predicted by analysts. The vast sales will push Moderna into profit for the first time in its 11-year history, and see its reputation cemented among global pharma giants. 

So far, Moderna has finalized deals for around 1.08bn doses of the jab, including 17m for the UK, 50m for Japan and 310m for the EU. The firm, which at its last headcount in 2019 employed just 230 staff, charges $30 for the required two shots in the US and $36 in the EU. Barclays analyst Gena Wang forecasts sales could be as high as $19.6bn this year, $12.2bn in 2022, and $11.4bn in 2023, assuming top-up vaccinations are required.

Share price change over the past year

Moderna: +305.72%


Astrazeneca has the biggest number of orders for its Covid vaccine of any pharmaceutical firms so far, with 3.29bn doses in the pipeline. But the Anglo-Swedish firm has seen distribution of its jab hampered following a slew of false media reports, erroneous claims by EU leaders and suspicions over its efficacy and potential side effects

Earlier this year, the EU questioned the drug’s effectiveness in older groups, after Astrazeneca said manufacturing issues meant it would not be able to fulfil its orders for the first quarter. Last month, 17 countries temporarily suspended the jab while health organisations around the world investigated reports of blood clots.

Astrazeneca has pledged to deliver its vaccine on a not-for-profit basis during the pandemic, meaning sales will unlikely be any higher than $1.9bn this year, according to analysts at SVB Leerink. But many are questioning whether the company will hike its prices after its no-cost pledge failed to deliver any reputational gain. 

Astrazeneca charges between $4.30 and $10 for two doses at the moment, but that figure could well skyrocket if countries increasingly turn to other vaccine producers in coming years. 

Share price change over the past year

Astrazeneca: +1.96%

Johnson & Johnson 

Johnson & Johnson’s jab, produced by subsidiary Janssen, is the world’s first single-shot Covid vaccine. In total, 1.27bn doses have been ordered by countries around the world so far. 

The vaccine received emergency approval in the US in February, but has not yet been given the green light from the UK medicines regulator. That said, ministers are keen to use the jab to fast-track vaccination for younger people in Britain. Millennials are set to receive a “jab and go” vaccine using the J&J drug from July, according to reports. 

As with Astrazeneca, J&J has pledged not to profit on its vaccine during the pandemic, delivering the drug at cost price of around $10 per dose. The company aims to deliver at least 1bn doses this year, which would generate $10bn of profit. But since the vaccine is a single-shot jab, this will provide a much cheaper alternative for countries going forward. 

Share price change over the past year

Johnson & Johnson: 18.84%


More than 1.38bn doses of the Novavax vaccine have been ordered so far, but the jab has not received regulatory approval in any major economy. The UK has placed a big order for the drug, with 60m doses set to join Britain’s portfolio in the first half of the year, with production already set in motion in England.

It hopes to produce 150m doses a month and is expected to be cheaper than rivals, with the two-dose jab set to come in at around $32 for both doses. 

Novavax said last month it sees “the potential for several billion dollars in revenue in the next 12 months”.

Share price change over the past year:

Novavax: +58.22%