Who's at fault for the slow-to-market H1N1 vaccine? USA Today asked consumers, and more than half of them blamed drug companies. Some 62 percent said they blame pharma either a great deal or moderately. The government, by contrast, got 58 percent of the blame.
We all know why vaccine production was slow off the starting blocks. The first seed strain of the H1N1 virus didn't multiply as fast as the usual seasonal flu strains, setting vaccine makers back. Since then, the companies have been able to amp up production. And they've been shouting that news from the rooftops. Most recently, it was Sanofi-Aventis CEO Chris Viehbacher (photo) who said that U.S. production had hit optimal speed.
But vaccine makers still haven't caught up with promised delivery volumes. Some 41 million doses are available as of today, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a letter to doctors.
Plus, the U.S. didn't embrace new vaccine technology that could have sped up production, namely, adjuvants. These shot-boosters allow vaccine makers to produce more doses with less actual virus. The only company producing an adjuvanted flu vaccine for the U.S., GlaxoSmithKline, has just now won FDA approval. And the government gave only a small fraction of its order to the company, relying mostly on traditional vaccines from Sanofi-Aventis and Novartis, and on a nose-spray version from AstraZeneca. Those shots got approval almost two months ago.