Flu vaccine, Tamiflu shortage as influenza sweeps U.S.

Fluzone--courtesy of Sanofi Pasteur

As one of the worst flu seasons in a decade sweeps the United States, some flu vaccine and drug manufacturers find themselves in short supply of their products. Still, the high demand offers a welcome financial boost.

Sanofi ($SNY), the largest flu vaccine manufacturer in the U.S., sold out of four of the 6 different dosages of Fluzone seasonal flu vaccine due to high demand. Meanwhile, Roche ($RHHBY) told Reuters that the company lacks enough doses of liquid Tamiflu, a drug given to children to shorten the duration of a bout of flu. Demand for the drug only grew when the FDA extended its approval to include treatment for infants 2 weeks of age and older.

While hopeful that recipients of the drug will deal with temporary delays in shipments, Roche will likely more than double Tamiflu sales from last flu season. During the 2011-2012 flu season, Tamiflu brought in about $350 million. Morningstar analyst Karen Anderson says the total this season will likely hover around $750 million, boosting overall Roche revenue this year about 1%, Reuters reports. Still, that total is nothing compared with sales during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic; sales of Tamiflu that year hit $3 billion.

Flu manufacturers plan to produce 137 million doses of vaccine this season, 112 million of which were already received by late 2012. Sanofi produced 60 million of those doses, while GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) planned to make 25 million doses. By Jan. 4, manufacturers had distributed 128 million doses. Most conventional flu vaccines are grown in fertilized chicken eggs, a process that takes months to wrap. This means manufacturers can't simply ramp up production and expect to meet immediate demand.

As of Jan. 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that 47 states had widespread flu. The CDC offers a weekly report tracking the spread of influenza.

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