For Vax Providers, Flu Season Off to a Running Start

by: Douglas Cress

It’s flu season again, and more than 690,000 people in the US have already been vaccinated, reports healthcare analytics provider SDI. This year’s flu season is predicted to be mild, and there appears to be no shortage of vaccines — a sharp contrast compared to last year, when the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic sparked a worldwide panic and sent pharmaceutical companies into a drug-developing frenzy. Last month, the World Health Organization declared that the pandemic was officially over. Swine flu was found to be no more severe, with no greater risk of serious illness, than its seasonal counterparts. This season’s vaccine inoculates against H1N1 as well as two other types of influenza. According to SDI, pharmaceutical companies plan to produce more doses of the flu vaccine than ever before.

More than 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 people die from seasonal flu complications each year in the US, according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC recently announced a campaign to combat seasonal flu. The agency removed many restrictions and currently supports seasonal influenza vaccination for all people 6 months of age and older.

Meanwhile, three healthcare organizations are pushing for mandatory flu vaccinations for healthcare personnel. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a new policy statement suggesting that all healthcare workers be required to get flu vaccinations. A policy paper written by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America and backed by the Infectious Diseases Society of America also recommended mandatory flu vaccinations for healthcare personnel. According to studies cited in the paper, the spread of flu decreases when all workers in a healthcare facility are vaccinated against the disease. Deaths from flu-related complications decrease as well.

For patients who are wary of the needle, researchers in the US and Europe reported progress in the development of a self-administered flu vaccine skin patch. According to a study published in Clinical and Vaccine Immunology, the patch contains about 100 dissolvable microneedles designed to vaccinate against the H5N1 flu virus. Researchers found that mice developed immunity to the virus equal to or stronger than that gained from an intramuscular shot. The study also demonstrated that human skin cells responded to flulike particles delivered in the patch. Another needle-free option may come from biopharmaceutical company NanoBio Corporation. The Ann Arbor, Michigan-based company is currently developing an intranasal flu-prevention spray.

Last month, the US government announced a plan to cut red tape and work with life sciences companies to prepare for biological disasters. A Reuters commentary suggested that smaller biotechs may benefit the most from the new plan. Among other recommendations, the report suggested that the Department of Health and Human Services “support the development of at least three influenza vaccine candidates whose manufacture does not depend on virus grown in eggs or cells.” The commentary mentioned Novavax, Inovio Biomedical Corp., and Vical, Inc. as three small biotechnology companies developing products that fit into this category.

Will this year’s flu season be a boom or a bust for pharmaceutical companies?

Disclosure: No positions