Flu Epidemic Means Big Business for Pharmaceutical Industry


This year’s catastrophic flu epidemic has given few any sort of reason to smile, but there have been positive impacts – at least for the pharmaceutical industry.

With hospitalizations reaching record rates, the use of flu vaccines, as well as flu-related treatments, have been driving up profits along the pharmaceutical supply chain, impacting processors, distributors, laboratories, and retailers. In fact, drug store CVS recently revised its forecast to account for better-than-expected operating profits and pinned it on the flu.

It’s an unfortunate situation for Americans at large, but it’s not the industry’s fault, right? Well, that depends on who you ask. In a recent report for Wired.com, global health writer Maryn McKenna called out big pharma for its role in a broken system. McKenna says flu vaccines make the industry an excess of $3 billion, and yet they don’t tend to be highly effective – with this year’s efficacy rate estimated to be about 30 percent, with some years being as low as 10 percent.

But what’s really required here is a sea change, she says, because drug companies aren’t incentivized to research the solution that’s being proposed by academics: creating a universal flu vaccine that’s administered once or twice in childhood and which is effective for a lifetime of changing viruses. She says this approach would cost the pharma companies behind the current yearly flu vaccines billions in recurring revenue.


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