Pfizer Inc. PFE 0.77% said it expects its Covid-19 vaccine to generate about $26 billion in sales this year, a major increase from several months ago that reflects the shot’s growing role in the global vaccination campaign.

The company also said Tuesday it is working on making the two-dose shot easier for vaccinators to administer and store. It has begun studying an updated version of the vaccine for the dangerous Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa.

The Pfizer vaccine is the most-administered of the three Covid-19 vaccines cleared for use in the U.S. and increasingly is available around the world. Pfizer raised its vaccine sales forecast from $15 billion earlier this year as more countries sign supply agreements.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the way Pfizer has started 2021,” Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla said on a conference call with analysts.

The two-dose shot, which Pfizer developed with BioNTech SE, contributed $3.5 billion to the company’s $14.6 billion overall sales during the first three months of the year, Pfizer said. Stripped of one-time items, Pfizer’s adjusted profit in the quarter was 93 cents a share.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet had been forecasting an adjusted profit of 78 cents a share on sales of $13.62 billion.

Analysts said Pfizer’s Covid-19 quarterly vaccine sales exceeded expectations, a trend they say will continue the rest of the year. Still, analysts cautioned that it is unclear how long Pfizer, which splits Covid-19 vaccine sales with BioNTech, could sustain the revenue at such a high level.

Pfizer has started to test its Covid-19 vaccine in children ages six months to 11 years old. In this video, some of the first recipients—twin sisters from North Carolina—receive their vaccinations. Photo: Shawn Rocco/Duke Health (Video from 3/25/21)

Pfizer says it expects global demand for Covid-19 vaccines will remain for at least several years, and an increasing number of health experts say that annual booster shots may be needed to maintain protection.

Pfizer and BioNTech have shipped more than 430 million doses to more than 90 countries. Countries already are lining up for more Pfizer supplies beyond 2021, Pfizer said. Pfizer said it has entered into supply agreements with Israel to supply millions of doses next year, and with Canada to supply up to 125 million doses in 2022 and 2023.

Covid-19 vaccines are in high demand across the world as the pandemic accelerates in countries including India and Brazil. They are reporting record numbers of deaths amid a surge of coronavirus infections that has overwhelmed their healthcare systems. While countries such as the U.S. and Israel are close to vaccinating large majorities of their populations, poorer nations are struggling to get their rollouts going.

Vaccine sales in 2021 still could exceed the $26 billion forecast, which reflects the 1.6 billion doses that the company is under contract to deliver. Pfizer and partner BioNTech say they can manufacture up to 2.5 billion doses this year and at least three billion next year.

Pfizer said it would ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for full approval of the Covid-19 vaccine for use in people 16 years and older this month, which would allow the company to market the vaccine directly to the public. The FDA authorized the shot in December on an emergency basis because of the urgency of the pandemic and because the company needed to collect at least six months of data on subjects from its 44,000-person pivotal study.

Pfizer said it is enrolling subjects for a study testing a tweaked version of its vaccine that targets the more dangerous strain first identified in South Africa. Pfizer and BioNTech have said lab tests show that the vaccine generates a weaker immune system against the variant while still providing protection. Initial results are expected in July.

Meanwhile, Pfizer said it expects initial results of a study evaluating a third dose of the vaccine in July, and will seek emergency authorization later that month.

Pfizer and BioNTech are waiting on decisions from U.S. and European regulators, who are considering whether to authorize the vaccine for children as young as 12 years old.

Pfizer says it is working on ways to make the vaccine more accessible and easier to handle by vaccine administrators. Pfizer last week submitted data to U.S. regulators and asked the vaccine be stored at refrigerated temperature for up to one month.

Pfizer says it expects to ask the U.S. to approve in August a format of the vaccine that would not require vaccinators to mix the vaccine with diluent, making the vaccine more convenient to administer. This would allow for the vaccine to be stored at standard freezing temperatures for up to 10 weeks or at minus 50 to minus 70 for six months, Pfizer said.

The vaccine’s temperature requirements have been an obstacle for small and rural vaccination sites in the U.S. and abroad. The shots are transported at ultracold temperatures to ensure they remain effective, although they can be stored at standard freezing temperatures for up to two weeks.

Quarterly sales also rose in Pfizer’s divisions for oncology, internal medicine and hospital products, along with sales of other drugs in its portfolio. Sales for blood thinner Eliquis rose by one-quarter from a year ago to $1.6 billion, while sales for heart drug Vyndaqel nearly doubled to $453 million.

The pandemic slowed sales of some other Pfizer products. Sales of pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar 13 fell 20%, partially because people were making fewer wellness visits to their doctors. Breast-cancer drug Ibrance’s revenue sales were flat as economic hardship led more patients to buy the breast-cancer drug through Pfizer’s patient-assistance program.

Over the past year, Pfizer has pared down its secondary business lines to focus on new-drug development. In November, the company completed a deal to spin off its Upjohn segment, which focused on generic and off-patent drugs.

Higher vaccine sales boosted Pfizer’s outlook for the full year. The company now expects total revenue of $70.5 billion to $72.5 billion in 2021, with an adjusted profit of $3.55 to $3.65 a share. Pfizer’s previous revenue forecast had guided for sales of $59.4 billion to $61.4 billion, with an adjusted profit of $3.10 to $3.20 a share.

Write to Jared S. Hopkins at [email protected] and Matt Grossman at [email protected]

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