Pfizer keeps COVID sales forecast unchanged as pandemic curbs ease

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May 3 (Reuters) - Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) maintained sales forecasts for its pandemic products on Tuesday after a series of hikes to revenue projections for its COVID-19 vaccine last year, in a sign that dizzying growth has slowed.

Several countries have eased pandemic restrictions, relaxing rules on masking and quarantines, even as cases rise in some regions.

The company said it expects $22 billion in sales from its COVID treatment Paxlovid this year, compared with analysts' average expectation of $26.1 billion, according to Refinitiv.

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Pfizer had previously said its $22 billion forecast for sales of the pills only represents a fraction of the 120 million courses the company is able to manufacture this year.

The company's reluctance to lift that forecast could signal a dearth of new sales contracts for the drug during the first quarter.

Pfizer also reiterated its 2022 forecast for $32 billion in sales from the COVID vaccine it developed with BioNTech SE (22UAy.DE). Pfizer had raised its COVID-19 vaccine sales forecast every quarter in 2021.

Pfizer executives said they see Paxlovid demand picking up, pointing to higher usage in the United States and recent outbreaks in some countries.

"With the vaccine, they were trying to buy as much as possible within the year in 2021. They were scared because there was not availability," Chief Executive Albert Bourla said in an interview. "With Paxlovid, we've made it very clear that we would have enough ... that's why they are buying only based on the next several weeks' needs."

Still, diminished COVID concerns among patients and governments could generate uncertainty over Pfizer's ability to exceed sales forecasts for its vaccine and oral treatment, Citi analyst Andrew Baum said in a research note.

Pfizer recorded first-quarter adjusted earnings of $1.67 per share, according to Refinitiv calculations, beating analysts' estimates by 20 cents. That was mostly powered by $13.2 billion in first-quarter sales of the COVID vaccine, above analysts' estimates of $10.6 billion.

Pfizer shares were up nearly 2% at $49.18.

The stock rise was being driven by the extent of the sales beat for the COVID-19 vaccine despite low expectations for growth this year, said Millie Gray, analyst at Informa Pharma Intelligence.

"Sales of vaccines were thought to stagnate a little bit and not increase as much," Gray said.

Pfizer expects to submit data supporting authorization of a three-dose regimen of the vaccine for children under the age of 5 to U.S. regulators by early June. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already scheduled meetings later in June to consider authorization for that age group.

The company is also working on a potential update of its vaccine to combat the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which it hopes will help provide broad protection in the fall.

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Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru and Michael Erman in New Jersey; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot

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