- Wall Street Journal -
Just months after rushing to order enough swine-flu vaccine to protect their citizens, European governments are canceling orders and trying to sell or give away extra doses as they sit on a glut of the vaccine.
The main reason: European health officials decided that only one shot per person was needed, instead of the two originally planned. Low demand is also to blame. Many Europeans believe the pandemic has turned out to be fairly mild, and don't see a reason to get vaccinated. Some are also concerned that they will suffer side effects from the shots, despite assurances otherwise from global health officials.
"The population is not running to get the vaccination," says Roland Jopp, a spokesman for Germany's health ministry.
Declining interest in the shots could be bad news for vaccine makers, particularly if countries demand their money back for supplies already delivered. Companies may be able to sell the shots elsewhere, however. Most vaccine makers, including GlaxoSmithKline PLC, Sanofi-Aventis SA, Novartis AG and Baxter International Inc., have been expecting a large sales bump from H1N1 vaccine.
In October, analysts estimated that Glaxo would ring up an extra £1 billion ($1.62 billion) of fourth-quarter sales thanks to the vaccine. Novartis has forecast H1N1 sales of $400 million to $700 million for that period.
But some countries are now canceling orders. Germany on Tuesday said it canceled 30% of the 50 million doses it had ordered from Glaxo, which it said would save the country 133.3 million euros ($194 million). France, which had ordered 94 million doses from four companies, is seeking to cancel 50 million of those doses, according to its health ministry. The U.K., Switzerland, the Netherlands and Spain also say they are seeking to trim orders, or to sell already delivered doses to other countries.
Last week, the World Health Organization said that rates of "influenza-like illness" have declined substantially in Western Europe in recent weeks.
Glaxo said it is "working closely with governments to respond to their changing needs." Novartis said it "will evaluate government requests on a case-by-case basis within the framework of the contractual agreements, which are considered binding."
A Baxter spokeswoman said its "have always included provisions allowing the contract holder to adjust its vaccine supply requirements based on its evolving pandemic needs." All three companies declined to comment on how cancellations might affect sales.
A Sanofi spokesman said the company doesn't yet anticipate any significant changes in revenue due to vaccine cancellations.