Pfizer's tick-borne encephalitis vaccine TicoVac passes FDA muster, allowing travelers and the military easier access

man after getting vaccine shot
Tick-borne encephalitis is prevalent in Asia and Eastern Europe. Pfizer's vaccine for the virus, TicoVac, now is more available to Americans. (alvarez/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Pfizer's vaccines group has been on a roll, generating world-leading COVID-19 shot sales and scoring a June approval for a much-anticipated Prevnar 13 follow up. Late Friday, the company scored an FDA nod for a less-watched program.

The FDA has approved Pfizer's tick-borne encephalitis vaccine TicoVac. The shot has been available for decades in endemic areas, but the new approval will allow travelers and members of the U.S. military living abroad to get easier access to the Pfizer shot. The CDC is expected to review data and make its own recommendations about TicoVac use among Americans.

The virus is prevalent in more than 35 countries in Asia and Eastern Europe, including Russia, China, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic and Slovenia. 

Caused by tick bites, the virus attacks the brain and spine and can leave 30% of those infected with long-term effects. The condition is fatal in between .5 and 2% of those who are infected. The Siberian and Far Eastern strains can kill up to 20% of people.

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Seven years ago, Pfizer paid Baxter $635 million for the vaccine, along with a meningitis C shot. Previously, the shot was available to Americans in TBE endemic countries but it was often difficult to obtain. 

The approval covers adults and children aged 1 and older. There are 5,000 to 12,000 cases of TBE annually in Europe, affecting less than 5 per 100,000 in areas where it is common. 

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More than 170 million doses of TicoVac have been administered since 1976, Pfizer said, but this approval won’t have a major effect on revenue. The company generated $27 million in TicoVac sales last year.

Meanwhile, Pfizer's vaccines business has been on a tear lately. The company expects to generate $33.5 billion with its BioNTech-partnered COVID-19 shot this year, and it recently scored an approval for a 20-valent follow-up to its blockbuster pneumococcal shot Prevnar 13. Before the pandemic, Pfizer's Prevnar 13 was the world's best-selling vaccine.