While NIH researchers and some companies are working to develop a long-lasting, universal flu vaccine, they are still years away from that goal. That means health providers are looking for seasonal vaccines to hit high marks for effectiveness and that didn't happen this year.
Only 56% of people who received the jab were protected from influenza, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, and the elderly were among the least shielded. "We simply need a better vaccine against influenza, one that works better and lasts longer," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a statement, as quoted by Reuters.
Effectiveness of flu vaccines tend to hover between 50% and 70%, experts say, but 56% is on the low end of that spectrum. A CDC official told Reuters that most older people received conventional flu vaccine and not a high-dose version developed by Sanofi expressly to address issues of poor immune responses in the elderly. While Sanofi shipped 6 million doses of the special formulation for the elderly, didn't know how much of it was used or by whom.
And reports of low efficacy could deter people from getting the shot--this at a time when vaccination rates already sit far below the target rates. Last flu season, the vaccination rate was 42%; the target rates are 80% for people ages 6 months to 65 years and 90% for those older than 65.
A study tested 2,697 children and adults for influenza virus. Among those with influenza, 32% had received the 2012-2013 seasonal flu vaccine, compared with 50% of the influenza-negative controls.
Developing a better influenza vaccine is on the radar for pharma companies. Federal health officials say the United States will likely need to wait 5 to 10 years for a universal shot. BiondVax Pharmaceuticals and MonoSol Rx teamed up to develop an oral delivery system for a universal flu vaccine. And Inovio Pharmaceuticals ($INO) is working on a DNA vaccine platform to combat the illness. A number of NIH-funded researchers, too, are working on that virtual holy grail for flu scientists.
Last year, Sanofi's ($SNY) Fluzone/Vaxigrip shot topped the list of best-selling flu vaccines, with an estimated $1.343 billion in sales. Sales of flu shots over the past few seasons haven't grown in any significant way. But the 2013-2014 flu season will have some new products on tap, namely GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Fluarix Quadrivalent, AstraZeneca's ($AZN) FluMist Quadrivalent and Protein Sciences' Flublok. Perhaps next season's lineup will better match the vaccine formula to the circulating strains of flu.
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