Johnson & Johnson posted stronger-than-expected first-quarter sales, as the drugmaker awaits a ruling from U.S. health regulators on whether use of its coronavirus vaccine can resume.

For the full year, J&J said that it expects adjusted earnings per share of US$9.42 to US$9.57, narrowing guidance of US$9.40 to US$9.60 given in January, compared with the average Wall Street estimate of US$9.50. First-quarter revenue was US$22.32 billion, outpacing the average analyst estimate of US$21.98 billion.

The U.S. paused use of J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine last week after reports that six women had developed serious but rare blood clots in the brain after receiving the shot. On Friday, a panel of medical experts reviewing data on the adverse events could vote on whether the hold should end. As of April 15, 7.7 million people in the U.S. had received the shot.

J&J Chief Financial Officer Joseph Wolk told Bloomberg in January that the company would likely project full-year revenue for its COVID-19 vaccine in April. Though J&J reported sales of the vaccine to the tune of US$100 million in the U.S. in the first quarter, it didn’t forecast sales for 2021.

The company didn’t provide a full-year forecast for vaccine sales because of uncertainty around the pause in its use, Wolk said in an interview Tuesday. J&J is offering the shot on a not-for-profit basis, at no more than US$10 a dose, for the duration of the pandemic.

“We don’t want to be presumptuous and perhaps maybe even offend regulators, we want that process to play out and make sure that we’re being respectful of it,” Wolk said. “Since it’s a not-for-profit construct, it’s not going to have a material impact on earnings.”

Wolk said he remained optimistic about the vaccine’s future. “In the next couple of days we will have a very solid path forward, and we’re going to do all we can to make sure that’s a positive outcome,” he said.

Once the pandemic is over, Wolk said J&J would price the vaccine using a tiered model it employs for its other products. “We’ll be reasonable in our pricing, we want to make sure we do maintain access,” he said.

Dividend Increase

J&J also boosted its dividend on Tuesday by 5 per cent, from US$1.01 a share to US$1.06 a share. In premarket trading, J&J shares slipped 0.6 per cent to US$161.80. Since the start of this year, the stock had climbed 3.4 per cent through Monday.

The company’s pharmaceutical unit continues to account for more than half its sales, and revenue in the division jumped 10 per cent to US$12.2 billion in the first quarter. Sales of blockbuster immunotherapy drug Stelara surged 18 per cent to US$2.2 billion.

Though the pandemic had taken a toll on J&J’s medical-device sales as patients put off surgeries and other procedures, the unit regained momentum in the first quarter, with sales rising 11 per cent from a year earlier to US$6.58 billion.

Wolk said he expects device trends to continue to improve. In the Asia Pacific region, medical devices rebounded by 70 per cent this quarter, he said, noting that other regions will follow suit with large improvements in the quarters to come. “Elective surgeries seem to be a little bit soft yet in terms of the market,” he said.

But consumer sales slipped 2.3 per cent year-over-year to US$3.54 billion. Within consumer health, J&J saw sales decline in over-the-counter products. This was driven by comparisons with last year’s pantry loading and a weaker cough, cold and flu season due to social distancing and lockdowns, the company said.

Overall, J&J reported first-quarter adjusted earnings per share of US$2.59, up from US$2.30 a year earlier.