New flu vaccines (sort of)

August 10, 2011

Something new has been happening in the flu vaccine business. For about 40 years there has been just one vaccine for influenza. A trivalent (three strains) vaccine given by intramuscular injection (a shot). Although several pharmaceutical companies made vaccine, it was all nearly identical. Now we are seeing something new, although not as new as you might think.

Pharmaceutical companies are taking the same vaccine and packaging it into specialized products for special populations or markets. Economists call this market segmentation. You take a basic existing product and modify it slightly for specific groups of people to strengthen their relationship with it; make them feel like the product is just for them. The market for flu vaccine is only so big, so companies want to give people a choice and a reason to choose their product over the competitors.

Last year we saw a new high dose vaccine for seniors. Same vaccine, but packaged in a higher dose, and it has been very successful. Smart company. This year we have a new intradermal flu vaccine that avoids the long needle that so many people hate. Same vaccine but a lower dose and no scary needle. Next year we may have a flu vaccine with four strains in it instead of three. I don’t know how it will be marketed but the company will figure out a way to convince the target customers that this vaccine is just for them.

The only really new flu vaccine we have seen is the intranasal product, which is a completely different concept in vaccines.

Each of these specialized products is good for the intended customers and I think it is good that companies are trying to constantly improve their products. Just remember that the vaccine part of all flu vaccines is the same and the rest is about dose and delivery.

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