Early in the pandemic, vaccine hesitancy was one of the biggest threats to widespread adoption of the shot. Now a more vexing foe appears to be pulling down the rate of ongoing jabs: Americans don’t seem worried about COVID-19 anymore.
The most recent polling on COVID boosters published in December 2022 by KFF, a health policy research nonprofit, showed that just four in 10 adults in the U.S. had either received the most updated bivalent COVID booster or planned to get one. Around the same time, results from a Consumer Trends survey showed that only 16% of Americans ranked COVID as their No. 1 worry, down from 45% one year prior.
And if Pfizer and BioNTech’s most recent earnings reports are any indication, overall demand for vaccines, boosters and other COVID-related products has crashed. Both companies reported massive losses on the COVID front in second-quarter earnings reports this week. Although overall sales of the COVID vaccine Comirnaty came in above Wall Street expectations, they still fell 83% in the second quarter. Pfizer also lowered its expected revenue for the year by $1 billion.
But this trend could shift. The declines are happening against a backdrop of rising COVID cases and a 12% increase in hospitalizations in the last week, according to the CDC. And Pfizer leaders predicted that sales of COVID products would rebound later this year as it switches from government to commercial sales, cases increase and public officials renew the push for vaccinations in the fall. Results from a KFF poll released in March also showed that about half of Americans would get a vaccine each year if it were offered on an annual schedule.
Still, as more Americans accept COVID as a part of everyday life, keeping them engaged in the fight against the virus will be key to staying vigilant with vaccines.
The future fortunes of several companies are also on the line. Pfizer indicated that if sales don’t bounce back, cost cutting measures could be on the table.
Novavax, which has been on a roller coaster ride throughout the pandemic with its vaccine, has been banking on uptake of its updated shot this fall to keep revenue above water. Other companies are also still in the race to bring new COVID products to market including Invivyd, which is being led by Pfizer’s former global mRNA business lead and is developing a monoclonal antibody for immunocompromised patients who are unable to get vaccinated.