GSK finds Americans missed 37M routine vaccinations amid pandemic

While many Americans were getting themselves and their children vaccinated and boosted for COVID-19, they fell behind on routine shots for other diseases like flu, pneumococcal pneumonia and HPV. 

Fresh data from GlaxoSmithKline show just how much catching up there’s still left to do.

A GSK-backed claims analysis by Avalere Health found adults and adolescents skipped more than 37 million doses of recommended vaccines between January 2020 and July 2021.  

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And, compared to 2019, monthly vaccine claims are still down an average of 32% for adults and 36% for teens, according to the latest figures, which are based on claims data from commercial insurers, Medicare and Medicaid.

The new report updates two earlier Avalere studies tracking the pandemic’s impact on routine vaccinations and comes as public health officials are also worried about lapses in other types of routine preventive health care such as cancer screenings, which are still below pre-pandemic levels. 

“It’s really concerning,” said Leonard Friedland, M.D., vice president and director of scientific affairs and public health for GSK’s vaccine division. “We’re just not seeing the recovery here."

Although vaccination rates rose in the fall of 2020 thanks to a rise in flu vaccinations, and again in March 2021 when many schools began reopening and school sports teams started playing again, they remained below pre-pandemic levels through the first half of 2021, the analysis showed.

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Broken down by age group, the data show adolescents age 7 to 18 missed roughly 10 million vaccine doses between January 2020 and July 2021, while adults missed around 27 million. 

GSK’s vaccine portfolio includes all 12 of the shots examined in the study, including flu hepatitis A and B, HPV, meningococcal, pneumococcal, chicken pox, shingles and the combination shots for measles, mumps and rubella as well as tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. 

Friedland said the pharma is sharing the data with doctors, medical associations and public health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services in hopes that more awareness will close the gap.

Public health officials and vaccine makers have also been calling attention to the problem with awareness efforts like the pharma-backed “Keep Up The Rates” PSA, Merck’s recent “Don’t Skip” TV ad and GSK’s more general “Brought to You by Vaccines” campaign, which targeted adults over 50.

The goal is for vaccinations to be seen by patients and healthcare professionals as a normal part of overall health and wellness along with diet, exercise and avoiding habits like smoking, said Friedland. Doctors and patients should be discussing them at every medical appointment, he said.

“It’s really important for that healthcare provider to say, 'You know what, you’re here today for your influenza vaccine? You’re over 50? Let’s check your records. If you didn’t have your shingles vaccine or your pneumococcal vaccine that was recommended for you, let’s do that as well while you’re here today,'” he said.

We're seeing this in the financials of vaccine drugmakers, with full-year results for Sanofi making grim reading: Worldwide, Sanofi’s flu shot sales dipped 12.4% for the fourth quarter, it revealed in its report last week, generating roughly 1.09 billion euros (about $1.24 billion).

U.S. flu sales for the period sunk 48.3%. Sanofi flagged two exacerbating factors in the U.S., where its flu shot sales also slipped 13.6% for the full year: First, COVID-19 boosters took priority in November and December, relegating flu shots to the sidelines.

And GSK is being hit, too, with its financials out Wednesday, Feb. 9 showing its vaccine business was off 7% at constant exchange rates for the fourth quarter, with its shingles vaccine's revenue off by 9% "resulting from the negative impact of COVID-19 vaccination programme deployment and disease circulation," the pharma said.

The rest of the fall in sales of its shots "was primarily driven by lower Meningitis vaccines sales associated with the return to a normal US back-to-school season, lower DTPa-containing vaccines sales due to unfavourable CDC purchasing patterns in the U.S.," it added.