* Sanofi runs out of most vaccine dosages
* Roche's Tamiflu shipments delayed
* GlaxoSmithKline may run out in mid-February
(Adds details throughout)
By Ransdell Pierson and Caroline Humer
Jan 10 This year's U.S. flu season has created
shortages of the Tamiflu treatment for children and of the most
widely used flu vaccine, their manufacturers said.
Roche Holding AG told Reuters late on Wednesday
that it had a shortage of the liquid form of Tamiflu, given to
children who already have the flu to slow or stop symptoms. A
spokeswoman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed
that there have been supply interruptions in some locations.
Roche said it told wholesalers and distributors in recent
weeks that temporary delays in shipments were imminent. In the
meantime, pharmacists can make a substitute by dissolving
Tamiflu capsules in a sweet liquid, according to Tara
Iannuccillo, spokeswoman for Roche's Genentech unit, which makes
Sanofi SA, the largest flu vaccine provider in the
United States, said on Thursday it had sold out of four of the
six different dosages of Fluzone seasonal flu vaccine due to
unanticipated late-season demand. The vaccine is made in
different sized vials and pre-filled syringes.
"At this point we are not able to make any more vaccine
because we are gearing up for next year's vaccine," said Michael
Szumera, a spokesman for Sanofi.
Most of the United States is nearing peak levels seen during
moderately severe flu seasons, according to the Centers for
Disease Control in Atlanta. As of last Friday, the percentage of
people seeing health care providers for influenza had increased
for the previous four consecutive weeks to 5.6 percent. That
compares with 2.2 percent the previous year, when flu was mild.
"We are hearing of spot shortages. Given the time in our flu
season, it isn't surprising. People who haven't been vaccinated
and want to get the vaccine may have to look in several places
for it," CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said on Thursday.
It is not unusual to run out mid-season during a moderate to
severe season, which is what this year looks like, he said.
It is definitely not too late to receive the seasonal flu
vaccine, said epidemiologist Craig Roberts, a physician
assistant at University Health Services at the University of
Wisconsin, Madison. The 42,000-student campus gave 10,000 flu
shots before the holiday break in December and has 5,000 more in
stock. "We'll be offering walk-in shots" once the students
return around January 22, he said, "which we haven't done in
January before. We also sent out a mass e-mail asking students
to get the shot at home if they can."
The vaccines that are available this year are a fairly good
match to the strains of the flu that are circulating, Skinner
said. It takes about two weeks for the vaccines to provide
Manufacturers planned to produce 137 million doses of the
vaccine and as of late last year, 112 million people had been
vaccinated, the CDC said.
Sanofi produced 60 million of those doses and
GlaxoSmithKline PLC had planned to make 25 million doses.
A spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline said on Thursday it expected
to have the vaccine available until mid-February.
Novartis, AstraZeneca Plc, ID Biomedical
Corp of Quebec and CSL Biotherapies are also authorized to sell
flu vaccines in the United States. ID Biomedical's product is
distributed by Glaxo, while Merck & Co distributes the
CSL Biotherapies vaccine.
AstraZeneca's MedImmune unit sells FluMist, an intranasal
spray approved for people aged 2 to 49. Tara Mullins, an outside
spokesperson for MedImmune, declined to provide details about
demand for and available supply of FluMist.
Karen Andersen, an analyst with Morningstar, said Tamiflu
sales would likely more than double to about $750 million this
year from about $350 million in the 2011-2012 flu season.
Tamiflu demand could boost overall Roche revenue this year by
about 1 percent, but she said that would be a "small positive
impact" for the company.
Tamiflu sales peaked at $3 billion in 2009, when governments
stockpiled the product in case of a global epidemic of avian flu
that never materialized.
WALGREENS FLU SHOTS UP
Walgreen Co, which provides flu shots in some of its
pharmacy locations, said on Wednesday it had given 5.7 million
doses so far this flu season, up from 5.3 million a year ago.
"We've kept our reimbursement rates the same, so we are
making a consistent level of profitability on flu shots,"
Walgreens President of Pharmacy, Health and Wellness Kermit
Crawford said after the company's annual shareholder meeting in
Chicago. Walgreens is the largest distributor of flu vaccines in
the United States other than the government
Walgreens is reimbursed by health insurers such as
UnitedHealth Group, Wellpoint Inc and Aetna Inc
, whose profitability can be hurt by the flu because of
reimbursements to pharmacies, doctors and other providers for
vaccines and treatments.
One small insurer, Centene Corp, in December cut
back on its earnings estimates for 2012 because its managed care
business in Texas and Kentucky, where the flu was active early
in the season, had increased its medical costs.
Aetna said this week it has seen a spike in flu cases this
year but it is not resulting in more inpatient admissions and it
is budgeting about $40 million to $50 million for a normal flu
season. That compares with $100 million it spent during the flu
season in 2009.
"We don't see this flu season, even at its worst, getting
close to that number," Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini said during
Tuesday's J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco.
Jason Gurda, an analyst at Leerink-Swann in healthcare
equity research, said in a research report this week that 2,255
flu-related hospitalizations have been reported since Oct. 1,
2012, up 735 from the previous week but below the 6,896
hospitalizations in the 2009-2010 season.
He said that could have a "modestly positive impact" on
first-quarter volumes for hospitals and said that many
companies, including HCA Holdings and Tenet Healthcare, had
hospitals in the states most affected so far.
(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson, Julie Steenhuysen, Susan Kelly
and Jessica Wohl, Writing by Caroline Humer; Editing by Jilian
Mincer, Lisa Von Ahn, James Dalgleish and Dan Grebler)