Investors wiped more than $10bn off the market value of the main Covid-19 vaccine makers on Monday after US president Joe Biden said “the pandemic is over”.
Shares in Moderna, BioNTech and Novavax fell as much as 9 per cent while Pfizer, which has a much broader portfolio of products, fell as much as 2 per cent in early trading in New York. The S&P 500 index was roughly unchanged.
Analysts said the sell-off reflected concerns over demand for Covid vaccines at a time of increasing public apathy and the message from leaders in the US and elsewhere that the crisis phase of the coronavirus pandemic is coming to an end.
In an interview with 60 Minutes broadcast on Sunday night, Biden provided an upbeat assessment of the fight against Covid. “The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with Covid. We’re still doing a lot of work on it . . . but the pandemic is over,” he said.
In July, the Biden administration renewed its designation of Covid as a public health emergency but several senior officials have since downgraded their assessments of the threat. Last week, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said the end of the pandemic was “in sight”.
Evan Seigerman, analyst at BMO Capital markets, said the fall in vaccine shares was likely driven by Biden’s comments, concerns over the uptake of new Covid boosters — which are intended to protect against the original strain and Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5 — as well as the macroeconomic outlook.
The US is urging Americans to get immunised with the new “bivalent” vaccines but Seigerman pointed to recent reports suggesting “the rollout for Omicron boosters [in the US] is lower than anticipated”.
Jefferies analyst Roger Song said the sharp fall in vaccine makers’ shares was likely driven by the president’s remarks, but added Covid was still a threat and there needed to be renewed vigilance as the winter approaches.
He said US sales of Covid vaccines — which have been supported by governments paying for large numbers of jabs — would begin to resemble a more typical market such as influenza shots, which generate roughly $5bn a year.
Biden’s comments were criticised by some health experts, who warned the administration was declaring victory too soon.
“What’s over is @POTUS’s and our government’s will to get ahead of it, with magical thinking on the new bivalent boosters,” Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, wrote on Twitter.
The Biden administration is seeking $22.4bn from Congress to continue responding to Covid. The number of Americans dying from coronavirus-related illnesses sits at around 400 a day.