Local flu vaccine developer wants CDC to use product despite additional cost

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MERIDEN–‘Tis the season. The flu season that is. But despite the federal government’s $150 million investment in Meriden’s Protein Sciences, the company hasn’t been able to convince the Centers For Disease Control that its protein-based flu vaccine is the answer to a potentially deadly flu strain.

Earlier this month the CDC issued an advisory warning that traditional, egg-based flu vaccines may be ineffective in battling the H3N2 flu strain.

“To make the flu vaccine, using a traditional egg-based method, you have to grow a flu virus in an egg and the H3N2 virus, in particular, doesn’t like to grow well in an egg,” said Rachel Felberbaum, director of corporate communications for Protein Sciences.

Protein Sciences’ Flublok vaccine is made with protein instead of having to grow a flu virus. Flublok also contains three times the amount of antigen, the active ingredient in flu vaccines, as a traditional vaccine.

Approximately 40,000 Flublok doses have been sold, many of which have gone to about 1/3 of America’s hospitals, which administer it to their staff.

Now the company is hoping that enlisting some political muscle will finally open the door  for a wider audience to what the company says independent studies have proven is the world’s most effective flu vaccine.

“There is no excuse to have a vaccine in doctors’ offices and hospitals that is not the most effective vaccine available,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). He says the cost of flu in the United States is devastating.

“We spend about $10 billion annually on hospitalization costs for people with the flu,” said Murphy. “We lose about $7 billion additional dollars when it comes to lost productivity.”

The big road block to Flublok appears to be its cost.

“Flublok sells for $32 a dose, while egg based vaccines range, depending on which particular form of the product and which manufacturer, anywhere between $12 to $26 dollars,” said Felberbaum.

But Connecticut’s junior Senator says he is hoping to schedule hearings in Washington after the holidays in hopes of finding out if it is really a few dollars per vaccine that is keeping the CDC from committing to Flublok instead of purchasing vaccines from other countries.

“From a national security standpoint, it makes sense to have a capacity to build vaccines here in the United States,” said Murphy, a member of the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Protein Sciences says the fact that until late October Flublok was only effective in 18 to 49 year olds likely hurt their credibility with the CDC. The company says Flublok is now effective for anyone over the age 18. That, the company believes, should at the very least get them a seat at the table in terms of supplying vaccines to the CDC and state employees for the 2015-2016 flu season.

Felberbaum notes that even if you have already received a traditional flu vaccine this flu season, it is perfectly safe to also have a Flublok shot, which is covered by Medicare and other health insurances. To learn more about Flublok and to find out where you can receive the vaccine click here.

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