Low vax demand could threaten H1N1 profits

Some European customers are negotiating to return millions of unused doses of H1N1 vaccine to four suppliers, threatening the companies' huge revenue boost from the global pandemic. Apparently, governments had expected people to turn out in big numbers for the shot, but that isn't happening--and so the buyers want their money back.

Analysts estimate that sales of flu shots from GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis and AstraZeneca could be 15 percent lower than initially thought. In GlaxoSmithKline's case, that would amount to a £330 million ($534 million) reduction. The company had collected enough vaccine orders to boost its 2009 revenues up by £1 billion ($1.6 billion), and that total was expected to grow to £2.2 billion ($3.5 billion) over the course of the pandemic. Sales boosts for the other companies had been expected to be smaller, with Sanofi predicted to gain €750 million ($1.07 billion) and Novartis €600 million ($860 million), so at a 15 percent reduction, they'd lose commensurately less.

Only 20 percent of the high-risk groups in Spain showed up for the vaccine; that country had ordered 14.7 million doses. Meanwhile, in Germany, which ordered 50 million doses, officials believe people will need only one dose apiece rather than two, so they're looking to cut back on that order.

Spanish officials say they've made headway in getting the companies to take back the unneeded shots: "The contracts ... included clauses which allow the return of unused vaccines so they can be distributed to other countries," Health Minister Trinidad Jiminez told reporters. And a Glaxo spokesman told the Mail that the company "continue[s] to support governments in  managing the H1N1 influenza pandemic. This includes ongoing discussions for existing and new orders for our pandemic vaccines." We'll have to wait and see how those discussions pan out.

- read the article in the Mail
- get more from the Financial Times