Senators demand more from GlaxoSmithKline to boost Shingrix supply

GSK has implemented order limits to manage Shingrix doses. (GlaxoSmithKline)

Amid high demand for GlaxoSmithKline's new shingles vaccine, healthcare providers are running out. Even though the company worked up what it calls a "fair and equitable" process to ship Shingrix doses, two U.S. senators are not satisfied and are urging the drugmaker do more to boost inventory levels.  

Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Tina Smith, D-Minn., wrote to GSK CEO Emma Walmsley urging that she look at "what more GSK can do to end the shortage as quickly as possible." They said it appears GSK didn't develop "contingency plans" to ensure enough supply for the important vaccine launch. 

Because of the shortage, the senators wrote that patients may not be able to complete their recommended schedule of two doses in six months. In an update with CBS in Minnesota, Sen. Klobuchar said GSK responded quickly and plans to meet with her.

GlaxoSmithKline won approval for Shingrix last fall and days later, CDC vaccine advisers recommended the vaccine above Merck's older Zostavax. The vaccine is seen as better than Zostavax, which could be driving demand. Last month, a Glaxo representative said that healthcare providers are vaccinating against shingles "at a rate many times that of prior years." 

As of May, more than 1.5 million people have received the vaccine, he said. But GSK manufacturing had been unable to keep up.

In response, GSK devised a "fair and equitable allocation plan across all customer segments" to ensure that patients can complete the series, he added. The company has implemented order limits and delays to manage doses, and has delayed "broad consumer education activities" such as TV ads until it can restore inventory levels. 

Due to high demand, CVS has had trouble keeping supply across its thousands of stores, a spokesperson for that company told FiercePharma. 

Even as GSK struggles to keep up with demand, Shingrix has so far bested expectations commercially. In the first quarter, the shot generated sales of $150 million, leading company executives to suggest it'll generate $600 million this year. It's one of three important launches that are a focus for Walmsley and the leadership at GSK.