GlaxoSmithKline taking heat in its U.K. home turf over shortages of hepatitis B vaccine

GlaxoSmithKline is taking some heat at home over questions about global shortages of its and Merck’s hepatitis B vaccine that triggered rationing in the U.K., although GSK’s supplies to the much larger U.S. market seem to be unaffected.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that it has learned shortages of the vaccine in the U.K. are not as widespread as has been reported.

A global shortage of hepatitis B vaccine has developed, with both Merck and GSK citing manufacturing issues. The shortages led health agencies in England to ration use of the vaccine to those most at risk. In July, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted a notice that said GSK has sufficient supplies of adult and pediatric hepatitis B vaccines to address the anticipated gap in Merck’s supply.

The shortage in the U.K. has led some liver disease advocates to speculate that GSK may be more focused on the bigger and more lucrative U.S. market, the Telegraph reported.

“If GSK is prioritizing supply to the U.S. I’d like to know why they’ve made that decision,” Andrew Langford, chief executive of charity the British Liver Trust, told the newspaper.

A spokesman for GSK confirmed the global shortage of the vaccine to the Telegraph but declined to comment on any alleged disparity of supplies favoring the U.S. over the U.K. Public Health England (PHE) told the newspaper it had no evidence to suggest such favoritism. 

GSK has been able to cover for shortages of the vaccine in the past, but a spokeswoman for the company told FiercePharmaManufacturing last week that the company is currently dealing with manufacturing issues of its own.

In an e-mailed statement, she said the company is working with the Department of Health and PHE to secure enough supply to ensure that high-risk adults and children can still get shots. The rationing measures are expected to be in place in the U.K. until early next year, the PHE said.