Flu season may not boost better vaccine

Feb. 5, 2013 at 1:46 AM
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NEW YORK, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- It's unclear if the severity of the current U.S. flu season will translate into larger investment in vaccines, analysts say.

"Typically, when you have a season like this, it's more visible in the media and more people are suffering," Wayne Pisano, chief executive officer at VaxInate, a small privately held vaccine developer and a former chief executive at Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine arm of Sanofi, told Forbes magazine. "I would envision, in the next few years, that immunization rates will go up as more people take precaution. On that basis, there'll be more demand and more doses sold."

However, Barbara Ryan, an independent analyst who tracks the pharmaceutical industry, said even if the percentage of Americans who got vaccinated this year was higher than normal, it probably won't change the current flu vaccine equation.

"It is not likely to spark big investment. Flu vaccines will get sold every year, without investments in newer and better ones," Ryan said. "The bigger boost is likely for the drug store chains that administer the shots, and get the incremental traffic and purchases in their stores."

Investment is needed for the flu vaccination to make it more effective -- recent research found it about 62 percent effective -- and less effective in the elderly who are usually the most at risk of dying from the flu.

If you encounter a relatively mild season, such as last year when about 40 percent of the U.S. population was vaccinated, millions of doses were eventually destroyed, so a mild year usually yields a disincentive to improve the flu vaccine.

However, Pisano said he thinks the uptick will hold.

"People will recognize the benefit of vaccination -- anyone who goes through a bout of influenza -- will not want to go through it again," Pisano said. "We're still below 50 percent vaccination rate in this country. No, it may not be significant for a large pharmaceutical company with a vaccine division, but it will reinforce the preparedness message for the government."

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