With the US still diagnosing more than 50,000 cases of COVID-19 a day, public health officials want to see high levels of flu vaccine use this season to spare hospitals from the challenge of coping with big, simultaneous influenza and SARS-CoV-2 epidemics. Measures taken to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2 could cause the US to have a relatively mild influenza season but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nonetheless recently said “getting a flu vaccine will be more important than ever.”
Influenza vaccine manufacturers are responding to such comments by ramping up production for the 2020-2021 flu season. Earlier this month, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline outlined plans to increase US shipments of their flu vaccines by 20% and 9%, respectively. Now, AstraZeneca has shared details of its activities.
“AstraZeneca has increased manufacturing capacity and accelerated vaccine development to ensure we can confidently meet the needs of consumers and the healthcare system,” said AstraZeneca SVP Mina Makar.
The targeted step up in output at AstraZeneca is bigger still than the increases at Sanofi and GSK. AstraZeneca plans to increase US shipments of its Flumist Quadrivalent vaccine by more than 25%.
In total, the CDC expects manufacturers to ship up to 198 million flu vaccine doses to the US for the upcoming influenza season. That represents an up to 13% increase over last year, when companies shipped a record 175 million flu vaccines.
AstraZeneca shipped the first batch of its 2020-2021 vaccine this week and expects to have sent most of its US stock for the season by the end of next month.
Like many of its rivals for the US flu vaccine market, AstraZeneca is trying to ramp up its flu vaccine output while simultaneously preparing to ship hundreds of millions of COVID-19 prophylactics.
The COVID-19 vaccine Sanofi is developing with GSK uses the same baculovirus expression platform as the French pharma’s recombinant protein-based influenza vaccine Flublok, which it acquired in its 2017 takeover of Protein Sciences. AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 and flu vaccines are based on different technologies.
Flumist Quadrivalent differs from other flu vaccines in that it is administered intranasally, rather than by an injection taken from a vial or delivered via a prefilled syringe. The egg-grown virus vaccine is indicated for use in a narrower age range than some of its rivals — two to 49 years — but is preferred by some people as no needles are involved.