Merck, Pfizer vaccines ready for their close-up after Clinton's pneumonia diagnosis

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton at a Human Rights Campaign event. (photo by Gage Skidmore courtesy of

Hillary Clinton may not be Big Pharma's best friend these days, but her pneumonia diagnosis is lending a hand to vaccines from Merck & Co. and Pfizer.

After her campaign announced Clinton's illness, Google searches for “pneumonia vaccine” jumped significantly, according to Google Trends. Searches grew from a popularity level of 9 out of 100 at 2 p.m. on Sunday, before the news broke, to 75 that evening and 100 the next day.

According to Google Trends, the 100 number is "peak popularity," representing "the highest point on the chart for the given region and time." Lower values are percentages of that popularity level.

Pfizer and Merck both make pneumonia vaccines for adults, and the former company’s Prevnar 13 is the bestselling shot in the world. In 2014, the CDC recommended Prevnar 13 for adults over 65, a boost that’s helped Pfizer’s vaccines unit achieve huge gains since.

It’s too early to tell whether Clinton's news will boost sales for the Prevnar franchise, which brought in $6.2 billion last year, or for Merck’s Pneumovax 23, which accounted for $542 million in 2015 sales. But it’s certainly bringing awareness to vaccination against pneumonia, which can take weeks or months to clear up.

And it’s not the first time a Merck product has gained attention from a prominent political figure. Late last year, former president Jimmy Carter said the company’s immuno-oncology drug Keytruda helped him beat a tough diagnosis of metastasized melanoma. Pharma marketing experts said the "Carter effect" could help Keytruda in the contest for patients.

Earlier this month, amid a public furor over drug prices, Clinton said if elected, she would create a panel that would look for “excessive, outlier” price hikes. Then, enforcement actions could include fines and other measures to increase competition.

Related Articles:
Amid still-raging EpiPen scandal, Clinton rolls out plan to fight drug price hikes
Pfizer's Prevnar gets $2B boost with CDC nod in older adults
Pfizer's vaccine sales leap in 2015 thanks to Prevnar 13
Cancer-free President Carter notes Keytruda treatment: Will the celebrity effect kick in?