Global governments that were scrambling to order and distribute ample supplies of the H1N1 vaccine a few months ago are now sitting on stockpiles as demand for the flu shot has waned.
Whether concern over the vaccine’s safety or a noticeable dip in ailing cohabitants has caused the lack of response in citizens is unknown. Regardless of the reason, governments in developed nations have begun to cancel or reduce pending vaccine orders and sell or donate excess supplies. Health departments in Germany, France, Italy, and the UK are among countries reducing the number of shots they will receive in coming months, citing reduced demand and the determination that only one shot per person would be necessary.
While the major global vaccine manufacturers (including GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Baxter, Novartis, and CSL) have already profited from widespread sales of the vaccine, these order reductions will have a negative impact on the profits they thought they would receive in 2010.
In fact, as the pandemic has turned out to be less severe than predicted, some governments are investigating whether drugmakers had too much influence over the process. The World Health Organization is also coming under fire for encouraging such a strong reaction and plans to conduct an internal review over whether the massive vaccine push was warranted. But when it comes down to it, I imaging the findings won’t make much difference if similar situations occur in the future, as most governments and the WHO typically prepare for the worst when a virus has the potential to cause widespread deaths. It is impossible to accurately predict how swiftly an illness will spread or what final impact it will have.
Consumer concerns over safety and side effects were high even when the pandemic hit its peak in the fall, despite assurances that the vaccines had been safely produced and thoroughly tested. A handful of recalls after the vaccines were widely distributed probably heightened skepticism, while some would-be patients likely became desensitized to the issue after a media frenzy surrounded the illness throughout most of the year. But the tapering off of seriously ill patients with confirmed cases of H1N1 is probably the largest culprit in slowing consumer response.
Meanwhile, health experts insist the swine flu could make another wave this year, or even mutate into a stronger form in coming years, and here in the US the CDC is still avidly encouraging folks to get the vaccine.