Looking to sales growth, Merck rolls out vaccine adherence plan

Merck's shingles vaccine Zostavax

Vaccine sales can only grow as much as patient adherence to immunization recommendations allows, but Merck ($MRK) is rolling out a new initiative that could give its vaccines unit a boost.

Partnering with Practice Fusion, Merck will use the electronic health records provider's platform to alert doctors and patients about upcoming or missed vaccines based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommended list of vaccinations for adults. Merck markets several big sellers among the agency's suggested jabs, including Zostavax for shingles and Gardasil for HPV.

This is one of Big Pharma's first forays into patient compliance through electronic medical records. Traditionally, it's been the role of healthcare payers to intervene on isues like overdue vaccinations.

But Merck will take any boost in sales it can get in light of lackluster sales from its pharma unit in 2013, which sank 8% to $44 billion from 2012. For Merck, its vaccines unit seems like a logical place to focus on growth. In 2013, sales of Gardasil swelled 12% to reach $1.8 billion, up from $1.6 billion in 2012. Zostavax sales grew even more, with revenues expanding by 16% to $758 million last year.

The pharma giant's new plan will involve 112,000 of Practice Fusion's medical professionals, who will have access to a real-time dashboard that allows them to track the percentage of their adult patients that have received vaccines bases on CDC guidelines. During patient office visits, the electronic health record program will alert providers if a vaccine is recommended for patients.

The partnership with Practice Fusion builds on another recent effort rolled out by Merck to supply physicians with vaccination reminder cards to give to patients.

While Merck has benefited from an increase in young women receiving an HPV vaccine like Gardasil, as well as an uptick in people getting the shingles shot, the CDC reported in February that there has been little improvement in vaccination rates, and those rates even fell in some demographics.

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