Back-to-school MenB shots are de rigueur at some colleges, but others won't stock them

A key U.S. vaccines gatekeeper could have recommended new meningitis B jabs for all young adults in June, granting a boon to GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Pfizer's ($PFE) products. But though the Centers for Disease Control immunization committee did expand its initial narrow recommendation, it stopped short of advising routine vaccination against MenB.

Instead, it left the decision up to doctors and families. And now, U.S. universities are tackling MenB vaccination in a multitude of ways: While the new CDC committee nod and recent meningitis cases at universities have some colleges racing to hold vaccination clinics, others are taking a more restricted approach, citing the still-limited recommendation as a reason.

Providence College, for one, has required first-year students to attend vaccine clinics, though students may choose to opt out of the vaccination itself. About 75% of the 1,040 eligible students were vaccinated, Kathy Kelleher, director of the college's student health center told The Wall Street Journal. Conversely, the University of Missouri at Columbia isn't stocking MenB vaccines, but if a student wants the shot, university doctors will write a prescription that can be filled at a pharmacy, according to the WSJ.

The University of Missouri's Susan Even told the WSJ that universities would be "much more likely" to stock up on MenB vaccines if the CDC had issued a stronger recommendation for their use. Even is also chairwoman of a vaccine committee at the American College Health Association.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices--whose favor is usually needed to secure broad insurance coverage--could review the recommendation in the future, but in the meantime, Pfizer and Glaxo's rival vaccines are making progress with payers. A complete course of GSK's Bexsero or Pfizer's Trumenba costs more than $300, and most insurers already pay for the vaccines, or are expected to begin covering them soon, the WSJ reported.

That's good news for GSK, which bet big on vaccines when it traded away its oncology unit in exchange for most of Novartis' ($NVS) vaccines. But in the first quarter after the asset swap, the U.K. pharma giant posted "unremarkable" results, and now, with an ailing respiratory business, GSK is relying on vaccines and consumer health--two traditionally low-margin businesses.

The key to more sales is increasing volume "at a fair price" rather than hawking products at ever-higher prices in the developed world, CEO Andrew Witty has said. The British pharma plans to boost vaccine sales volume by an annual rate in the mid-to-high single digits between 2016 and 2020. And to do that, it needs Bexsero--a centerpiece in the Novartis trade--to perform.

As for Pfizer, it's looking to build up each of three operating units for potential sale or spinoff; it's set to decide by the end of next year what its divestment plans will be. Trumenba is padding a unit that comprises vaccines, cancer and consumer healthcare. Recently, Pfizer built up its established products unit with an acquisition of Hospira, which brought it a sizable biosimilars pipeline and injectable generics.

- here's the Wall Street Journal story (sub. req.)

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