World

BioNTech to price vaccine with Pfizer below market rates

But the BioNTech and Pfizer product will be priced differently in certain regions

FRANKFURT: BioNTech, first in the race to produce evidence of a working Covid-19 vaccine together with Pfizer, is planning to price the two-shot regimen below "typical market rates" and would differentiate pricing among countries or regions.

But with tropical heat, remote island communities and a dearth of ultra-cold freezers, many Asian countries are not betting on Pfizer's experimental vaccine solving their crisis any time soon.

Speaking at a Financial Times online event, the German company's strategy head Ryan Richardson said the price of the vaccine, which has yet to win regulatory approval, would reflect the financial risks that its private-sector investors have incurred.

"We have tried to pursue a balanced approach that recognises innovation requires capital and investment so we plan to price our vaccine well below typical market rates, reflecting the situation that we are in and with the goal to insure broad-based access around the world," Mr Richardson said at the FT event.

"I expect there to be differential pricing in certain regions of the world," he added.

The vaccine was on Monday shown to be 90 per cent effective, based on preliminary trial results, a key milestone in the war against a virus that has killed over a million people and battered the world's economy.

But health experts cautioned that the vaccine, should it be approved, was no silver bullet - not least because the genetic material it is made from needs to be stored at temperatures of minus 70 deg C or below.

Such requirements pose a daunting challenge for countries in Asia, as well as in places such as Africa and Latin America, where intense heat is often compounded by poor infrastructure that will make it difficult to keep the "cold chain" intact.

That is a problem given the World Health Organisation estimates 70 per cent of people must be inoculated to end the pandemic, and Asia alone is home to more than 4.6 billion - or three-fifths of the global population.

Some Asian countries are prioritising containing the coronavirus rather than looking to stockpile vaccines, while others are looking for alternatives to the technology that requires such ultra-cold storage.

"On the cold chain requirement of minus 70 deg, that is a hefty requirement. We do not have such a facility," Philippines' Health Secretary Francisco Duque told Reuters.

Pfizer told Reuters that it had developed detailed plans and tools to support vaccine transport, storage and continuous temperature monitoring.

Yet even wealthier nations such as South Korea and Japan are managing expectations.

"Storage is going to be a big challenge for us," said infection control manager Fumie Sakamoto at St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo.

"Hospitals in Japan usually do not have ultra-cold freezers, but I think it is high time we started thinking about the logistics."

Indonesia is considering a variety of vaccines, but the Pfizer one is not yet among them, said Mr Airlangga Hartarto, who heads the country's Covid-19 response team.

Vietnam said it would continue its containment effort.

Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam said on Friday: "Demand is far higher than supply, and we have to pay large deposits to secure our position, which I see as very high risk and a waste of money and time." - REUTERS

WORLD