Europe Faces $2.2 Billion Loss In Expired Pfizer Covid Drugs

The expiry of Paxlovid in Europe represents a costly case of underutilization.

How is Paxlovid used in Covid treatment?

A significant quantity of Pfizer's Paxlovid, a crucial Covid-19 antiviral drug, has expired unused in Europe, representing a substantial financial loss for buyers. The tight restrictions on who can receive the medication have resulted in millions of doses going to waste, a stark contrast to the drug's accessibility in the United States.

Paxlovid's Underutilization In Europe

In Europe, access to Paxlovid has been predominantly limited to older adults and those at high risk of severe Covid, leading to substantial underuse. Analysis by Airfinity indicates that over 1.5 million courses of the drug, valued at about $1.1 billion, have already expired, despite efforts to extend their usage dates. The trend is set to continue, with a total of approximately 3.1 million courses expected to expire by the end of February 2024, potentially escalating the cost to European health systems to around $2.2 billion. This figure does not account for EU-wide contracts.

Paxlovid boxes piled up
$2.2 billion worth of antiviral drug waste - another way to use taxpayers' money for nothing.

Overestimation And Economic Implications

Governments in Europe, including the UK, France, Spain, and Italy, might have overestimated the demand for Paxlovid during its initial availability in late 2021, coinciding with the rise of the Omicron variant. Marco Gallotta of Airfinity suggests that the challenge of estimating demand amidst the pandemic led to overpurchasing. As Covid cases declined and testing reduced, the need for these antivirals, which must be administered shortly after symptom onset, diminished significantly. This miscalculation has resulted in a notable economic impact, with countries struggling to administer their stockpiles before expiration, even after extending shelf lives.

Country-Specific Data And Regulatory Responses

The UK has been particularly affected, with an estimated 1 million doses worth $700 million expiring by early December. Another 550,000 doses are expected to expire in February, and an additional 650,000 by the end of June. During the Omicron wave, the UK had agreed to purchase 2.75 million courses of Paxlovid, but stringent prescription guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence limited its use to individuals with serious health conditions. This approach contrasts with less strict regulations in other European countries but does not mitigate the issue of wasted medication.

There have been some beneficiaries of the Covid pandemic. BioNTech shares, for example, have gained 350% in the short term.

Globally, the demand for Covid antivirals has fluctuated. In the US, the largest market for Covid outpatient treatments, prescriptions for antivirals have fallen by 24% compared to 2022, with the government arranging to return 7.9 million Paxlovid courses to Pfizer at an estimated cost of $4.2 billion. Meanwhile, Japan has expanded its Covid antiviral market by approving Shionogi's Xocova for standard-risk patients. The initial robust market for Covid antivirals during the summer has prompted Shionogi to adjust its sales targets for Xocova, indicating a shift in global market dynamics for these treatments.

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