Merck's ($MRK) shingles vax bulk supply to rise slowly

Zostavax remains in short supply. The Merck ($MRK) vaccine for shingles prevention in people age 60 and older is noticeably scarce in upstate New York. An immunization clinic in the Rochester area has been out of it for about two months, according to a local press report, and many doctor's offices have been waiting longer.

Merck estimates that orders placed from mid-May through September will be shipped in late November or December.

The vaccine shortage was caused by an inadequate supply of varicella bulk product, also made by Merck. Spokesperson Pam Eisele says in an email that manufacturing issues are responsible for the low bulk product supplies. "We have implemented process improvements approved by the FDA to return the bulk virus levels to expected ranges," she writes, to feed all of the company's varicella-containing vaccines. "Manufacturing of Varivax [to prevent chickenpox] is our first priority, followed by Zostavax and then ProQuad [for measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella]." The shortage has had no impact on the quality of any of Merck's varicella-containing vaccines, she adds.

Merck expects to begin shipping existing-customer back orders of Zostavax in December.

Merck is currently seeking FDA approval to expand usage to people in their 50s. That's one reason it needs to get its supply house in order quickly. Another reason is Novavax, which announced last week that the varicella-zoster virus is among those it plans to develop using its virus-like-particle technology, thanks to a $1 million grant from the Internal Revenue Service.

- see the article
- here's the Novavax announcement

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