With flu season approaching, what are vaccine manufacturers saying about this year’s supply? Repertoire posed this question in its September cover story “Predictable Demand.”

If anyone can turn guesswork into a science, flu vaccine experts have come pretty close to doing so. “The only similarity when comparing one flu season to others is their uniqueness,” says Patrick Schmidt, chief executive officer, FFF Enterprises.

 

Indeed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 163 million doses of influenza vaccine were made available for use during the 2010-2011 influenza season, notes Kristi Kuper, BCPS, clinical director of infectious disease, Cardinal Health. Similarly, manufacturer presentations at the National Influenza Vaccine Summit indicated that between 166 and 173 million doses will be available during the 2011-2012 season, she adds.  A shortage is not predicted.

Even with last year’s revised CDC vaccine guidelines, recommending mass vaccination for seasonal influenza – and the resultant heightened awareness on the part of the public – manufacturers and distributors predict there will be more than enough vaccine to meet this season’s need. “We believe that from a sales standpoint, there’s greater purchasing confidence, with production outweighing demand,” says Schmidt. As such, he recommends that “sales reps should encourage their physician customers to order as much vaccine as they require.” In turn, reps should also remind their customers to encourage their patients to get vaccinated. “Doctors should urge their patients to be vaccinated through December,” he says, noting that the upcoming season could very well extend through March 2012. Although vaccinations can begin as soon as vaccine becomes available, patients can be vaccinated into January or February if necessary, depending on when the season peaks.

 

There are several reasons why demand for flu vaccine is increasing, challenging manufacturers to keep pace: Apart from broadened vaccine recommendations, the public’s awareness of influenza and residual fear from the previous year’s pandemic have also increased vaccination rates. According to retail pharmacy estimates, the percentage of patients getting vaccinated went from 10 to 13 percent during the 2009-2010 season, to 20 percent during the 2010-2011 season, says Kuper.

 

“There are two potential paradigm shifts out there that pertain to the demand of flu vaccine,” she continues. For one, more and more hospital systems are adopting a mandatory vaccination policy requiring employees to be vaccinated for influenza “unless they meet certain exclusionary criteria,” she points out. Also, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently proposed new requirements for Medicare-certified providers, whereby they would have to offer all patients an annual influenza vaccination during flu season, unless medically contraindicated. (Patients would continue to have the right to decline any vaccination.)

 

Nevertheless, the expected mild 2011-2012 flu season has left the industry calm and confident. This year’s flu vaccine production is expected to be as follows:

  • Sanofi Pastuer – 70 million doses.
  • GSK – 35-37 million doses.
  • Novartis – 30-35 million doses.
  • MedImmune – 16 million doses.
  • Merck – 15 million doses.

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