Vaccine panel selects FluMist

Nasal spray to be included in kids program next year

Potential boost for MedImmune

CDC bought 4.5 million flu-shot doses this year

October 29, 2004|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

U.S. health officials voted yesterday to include MedImmune Inc.'s FluMist in the federal Vaccines for Children program for the flu season next year, the latest development that could boost the nasal spray's future sales.

The influential and closely watched Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta added FluMist to the program as an alternative to conventional flu shots. As a result, children eligible for the program will be able to receive the FluMist vaccine free of charge.

The Vaccines for Children program is the largest public-private partnership operated by the CDC, and is designed to make sure that healthy children ages 5 to 18 without adequate health insurance receive needed vaccines. American Indian and Alaskan native children also qualify.

The program's age parameters mean virtually all children covered would be eligible for Flu- Mist, which can be used only in healthy people between 5 and 49.

For this flu season, a CDC official estimated that the government purchased about 4.5 million vaccines, all flu shots. By some estimates, as many as 9 million children are eligible for the VFC program.

Bonnie Hebert, a CDC spokeswoman, said it was natural to add FluMist to the program, given that it is an approved product, and one that also can free up supplies of conventional flu shots for children who do not qualify for the Flu- Mist treatment.

Yesterday's CDC announcement is the latest positive development favorable for MedImmune as the Gaithersburg company works to rebound from last year's flu-season debacle - when it and partner Wyeth rolled FluMist out for the first time, but then sold only 10 percent of the more than 4 million doses produced. It had prepared 1 million doses of FluMist for this season.

Demand increased after British authorities blocked shipments of Chiron Inc.'s flu vaccine, which had been expected to supply 46 million to 48 million doses, or nearly half the U.S. shots for this season.

MedImmune subsequently announced it would increase output up to 2 million doses. Then, late last week, at the urging of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, MedImmune agreed to increase its output of FluMist to 3 million doses.

Those developments, as well as yesterday's CDC announcement, have created "a very nice opportunity for MedImmune to explore more thoroughly the potential ... for sales of FluMist," said Alexander A. Hittle, a biotechnology analyst who follows the company for A.G. Edwards in St. Louis.

MedImmune's shares yesterday rose more than 5 percent, or $1.43, to close at $28.38.

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