Pfizer's Prevnar drives big fall in hospital visits

Prevnar pneumonia jabs have been wildly successful for Pfizer ($PFE), racking up billions of dollars in sales and almost single-handedly driving its vaccine business. And after 13 years of use in the U.S., evidence shows the vaccines have been a boon for healthcare systems too.

A paper published in New England Journal of Medicine shows Prevnar 7--the precursor to the latest 13-strain vaccine--has prevented 168,000 hospitalizations a year in the U.S. People aged over 85 benefited the most from the 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, with 73,000 trips to the hospital prevented every year. Prevnar 7 also prevented an estimated 47,000 pneumonia hospitalizations a year among infants under two years old. This represents a 43% fall compared to before the vaccine was available.

The decline in hospitalizations will save healthcare systems money, and the vaccine is also helping in ways not tracked by the NEJM study. "It's also preventing ear infections and outpatient visits. It's really an amazing vaccine," Dr. Marie Griffin of Vanderbilt University Medical Center told Reuters Health. The fall in hospitalizations of seniors happened despite a lack of routine vaccinations in this population. Griffin attributed the trend to herd immunity, with the vaccinated kids helping to cut incidence of disease among seniors.

Between these two age extremes the vaccine has had less impact; there have been no significant change in hospitalizations seen in people aged 5 to 17 and 18 to 39. These groups had the lowest rates of pneumonia hospitalization before the introduction of Prevnar 7, and the FDA never approved the vaccine's use in them. In January, the FDA added children aged 6 to 17 to the Prevnar 13 label. This week Europe went one step further; approving the 13-strain vaccine for use in people aged 18 to 49.

Prevnar 13 has taken over from the 7 strain variant in most markets, but the NEJM paper only looked at the older vaccine. The additional 6 strains in Prevnar 13 may cut hospitalizations further. "There's an expectation there will be another big decline," Griffin said. Griffin and another of the study's authors receive grant support through their institutions from Pfizer. 

- here's Reuterstake on the study
- check out the abstract
- read the EU label news