IDSA: flu vaccine shortage shows need for incentives

Oct 27, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – In response to the national influenza vaccine shortage, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) is calling on the federal government to find ways to make the production of vaccines more profitable.

The organization of healthcare professionals and scientists said in an Oct 21 statement that Congress and the administration should "implement innovative public policy geared toward removing financial disincentives that have caused pharmaceutical companies to leave the vaccine market."

Only two US companies, Aventis Pasteur and Chiron, currently make injectable flu vaccine; one company, MedImmune, makes an intranasal vaccine. Reasons often cited for the decline in flu-vaccine makers include a complex, high-risk production process and unpredictable consumer demand that leaves millions of doses unsold in a typical year.

The IDSA said one possible remedy for the decline in vaccine manufacturing would be legislation similar to Project Bioshield, passed last July. The legislation provides funds to encourage the development of medical countermeasures for bioterrroism. Among other measures, it guarantees that the government will buy promising drugs and vaccines for diseases such as smallpox and anthrax.

Andrew T. Pavia, MD, chair of the IDSA's Pandemic Influenza Task Force, said patients with chronic diseases like diabetes may take a drug for many years, making treatments for those diseases much more profitable than treatments for infectious diseases. A person may use a particular vaccine only once or twice in a lifetime or, in the case of flu, once a year. Yet flu causes an estimated 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations yearly, the IDSA said.

''It makes sense for the country to reinvest in the infectious diseases market," Pavia said. "Vaccines and antibiotics will help to save lives and should be cost-effective for society in the long run. Money we put into incentives should be returned by savings from decreased diseases."

John G. Bartlett, MD, chair of the IDSA Task Force on Antimicrobial Availability, called for incentives such as "tax credits, strengthened intellectual property rights, liability protections, or some type of federally guaranteed purchasing program" to make infectious disease products more attractive to industry.

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