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COVID-19 vaccine outlook under scrutiny as President tests positive

Jared Holz, Healthcare Equity Strategy at Jefferies, joins Yahoo Finance's Zack Guzman to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine race as trial participants report day-long exhaustion, fever and headaches.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Today was supposed to be big jobs Friday. That was supposed to be the biggest news we'd be discussing on the show today, but last night that all changed rather quickly, as President Trump revealed that he tested positive for COVID-19 following the positive test from White House advisor Hope Hicks. And we're learning more about who may have come into contact with people who had tested positive for COVID-19, and we'll continue to watch that.

But right now, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, both saying that they tested negative. Of course, there's a lot of things to keep track of here. As we've noted in the past, some tests reveal positive or negative results, but could change later on. So we'll keep you up to date on all the updates we get there. But it does bring to mind a lot of questions about the speed. It was brought up on the debate stage about the speed of these vaccine candidates getting developed and whether or not President Trump knew some things that might actually bring them to market quicker.

Here to discuss all of the changes on that front with us is Jared Holz, Healthcare Equity Strategy Jefferies. And Jared, you're one of the smartest minds we have on the show when it comes to the vaccine timeline that we've been tracking here, so appreciate you coming back on. But as you're seeing this all play out, what might it do to change the timelines? Because we've already seen Pfizer is one of those front runners here, we're awaiting their data in their phase 3 trial. We've seen the CEO push back on politics playing a factor here. So how does it change in your mind now?

JARED HOLZ: Zack, great to be here, I appreciate it very much. Looking at what's happened overnight into today with the news that the president and his wife, it probably serves to underscore the importance of a vaccine approval, at least in the mind of the White House more so than it had before. I'm not really sure that we can get to a point where the expectation around a vaccine approval through the White House could have been higher. But certainly, this doesn't hurt.

And with respect to Pfizer, it's very interesting. The company has been articulating that they believe that the situation has gotten overly political. But in fact, I feel that they have not helped in that matter at all, promising data in late October before the election. So to me, the company is at fault as much as anyone else for politicizing the vaccine. Whether or not they actually have data before November 3, debatable. But it sounds like they think they will.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, that was a very interesting timing to say that they would have it before the election, as soon as October here. Now we're in the month of October, and what we could see there. Of course, all the preliminary data that would come out though, there's still the question of the FDA's restrictions and guidelines around that too. And we've seen them strengthening that. Bringing up questions that they might have to wait longer after these trials resume to go ahead and monitor patients to see what could happen there.

We've been learning more. I mean, there was a report on CNBC from some of the patients in these trials discussing side effects from the vaccine, chills, some things that maybe lasted a day. But when it comes to question marks around that, I mean, how much longer do you think past maybe that October timeline here for preliminary data might we actually get to what the president's talking about and maybe getting a vaccine approved by election day?

JARED HOLZ: Well, I think there, I mean, there are so many variables at play here. I think the first is obviously, what the data look like. And if the data suggests that the vaccine is efficacious and fairly safe or safe enough, I think we'll be totally fine with respect to that. The one thing that I don't think we're talking about enough, is this October 22 FDA panel meeting, in which the FDA is going to convene and sort of talk about all of the programs. And that might include the Pfizer data. If the data is out before the 22nd, we might get a sense of how they're viewing that program specifically.

But I think that if the programs look pretty clean from a safety standpoint, then I think the president will do everything he can to get something out there before November 3, or at least articulate a path forward where it's going to be a near term event, whether literally by November 3 or not.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, I mean, that's the question too, because we've kind of had this discussion as a binary event. You either get the vaccine out by election day or you don't. But when we talk about the scale that's needed to get this vaccine out to mass Americans, I mean, when we talk about the timeline for that and the general public, it still doesn't seem that you would get that until maybe spring of 2021 at the earliest from what we've heard from other people.

So I guess it's a fair question to say, look, even if a handful of health care frontline workers get the vaccine, whatever vaccine by election day, does that necessarily change anything about I guess, the timeline to getting this pandemic under control?

JARED HOLZ: Yeah, I mean, I think it speaks to the fact that, OK, you could an emergency use approval, you could have frontline workers, you could have various pieces of the American population that have access to this vaccine quickly. But I think most Americans will want to see data from a variety of companies before making the decision to get one of the vaccines.

And I think the clinicians that will be prescribing or injecting these vaccines into patients, will also want a much more comprehensive data set rather than just looking at Pfizer or just looking at Pfizer plus Moderna. You're going to have the Novavax data, the Johnson and Johnson single injection, Merck, Sanofi, Arcturus. There are many different vaccines here that we need to consider. So will Americans want to take the first vaccine that's available? I think it's very debatable.

ZACK GUZMAN: And lastly, I mean, when we talk about the amount of Americans who would actually get a vaccine here, it seems to be dropping when you look at the polls. Pew Research had that about half of American adults say that they would definitely or probably get a vaccine to prevent it. But that leaves about half that wouldn't.

And when you think about the economics that you've been covering here in terms of these vaccine, the progress on that front, what does it look like if half don't get it? And what does that mean for the companies and obviously all the billions that have poured into this research to get this out the door if at the end of it, all of this, Americans just say, look, we don't want to take the risk?

JARED HOLZ: Well, I mean, I think we've already seen the government make a huge basically pre-purchase of many of these vaccines already, that probably cover most of the American population all throughout 2021. If it turns out that half the population decides that they don't want the vaccine or they think it's unsafe for whatever reason, then we're going to have stockpiles of inventory out there. And then I don't really see the companies making a lot of money.

I mean, I think it's fairly safe to say that the amount of exuberance with respect to the vaccine stocks in particular, is probably too high, given the economic sensitivity around what we're actually going to see from a revenue standpoint. But yes, it half of the population decides that they never want to get the vaccine for whatever reason, then I think the government's procurement purchasing of these vaccines over the next few years is going to be well below what many people on Wall Street think.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, which is very problematic for the run-up that we've discussed with you before on a lot of these vaccine stocks across the board. But Jared Holz, Healthcare Equity Strategy at Jefferies, appreciate you taking the time to chat, as always.

JARED HOLZ: Anytime. Thanks a lot for having me.