More flu vaccine than we need

Helen Palmer Apr 20, 2007


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Drug maker MedImmune reports first quarter earnings today. The company says they’ll be better than expected even though only 3 million doses of its inhaled flu vaccine FluMist were sold. But MedImmune plans to produce 7 million doses for next winter as part of a record-breaking 132 million dose flu supply for the U.S. market. Nearly 20 million doses were left over after this season, so we asked Helen Palmer from the Health Desk at WGBH to find out why there’s so much supply when there’s seemingly so little demand.

HELEN PALMER: Health authorities keep expanding the groups who should get vaccinated, to reduce the 36,000 deaths seasonal flu causes each year.

WILLIAM GLEZEN: The current recommendation includes 218 million people.

William Glezen heads Baylor College Influenza Research Center. Glezen says doctors do a poor job of getting the vaccine message out, but it’s vital to keep up vaccine supply while boosting demand.

GLEZEN: If we expect to be prepared for a pandemic, we need to increase the demand for vaccines and antivirals so that we’ll have them.

Analysts say too few companies make flu vaccine. Christine Layton of RTI International says last season’s wasted doses make that worse.

CHRISTINE LAYTON: Someone is gonna end up taking a financial hit on that.

Layton says the global flu vaccine market’s expected to double to $5 billion in the next decade.

As for MedImmune, it expects FluMist to be approved for kids over 6 months old in May — a demographic likely to prefer an inhaled vaccine to a shot.

In Boston, I’m Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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