With even the most vulnerable segments of their populations shrugging off the threat of swine flu, Germany and Spain want to hand back unused stockpiles of the H1N1 vaccine. And if other countries follow suit, big vaccine manufacturers could have a big bite taken out of their revenue.
Three companies--GSK, Novartis and Sanofi--are getting a $5.3 billion windfall from the sale of swine flu vaccine. But they may not get to keep it all. Their contracts allow countries to return unused vaccine so supplies can be shipped on to other countries. "The return of excess quantities by Germany and Spain creates downside risk of up to 15 percent of total swine flu revenues for these companies," write analysts at J.P. Morgan.
Meanwhile, H1N1 vaccine is flowing into the U.S. at a fast pace, with 10 million new doses arriving every week. So far, 95 million doses are on hand and just about half of all states have lifted restrictions on who can get a shot.
But as more vaccine arrives, it's clear that the pandemic has passed its peak. Two months ago, 48 states were reporting widespread illness. That's down to 14 now. Some 50 million people have contracted H1N1, but with 10,000 dead, the mortality rate is no higher than with seasonal flu. And the relative mildness of the virus has prompted growing numbers of Americans to take a pass on the vaccine.
School officials throughout the country are continuing to report that a minority of students are choosing to get vaccinated against swine flu. One school in Texas says the vaccination rate for students--among the most vulnerable to a severe reaction--is less than half. In Massachusetts, the initial scramble for the swine flu vaccine has given way to easy access as interest wanes.