HEALTH

Vaccines expand outside and inside pharmacies

BY Alaric DeArment

It’s been more than 200 years since the first successful test of a vaccine against smallpox, and since then, vaccines have become one of the most important means of preventing and eradicating infectious diseases, ranging from minor ailments like the flu to devastating ones like polio.


Technological development in this area has continued and expanded to include not only vaccines against infectious diseases, but also therapeutic vaccines against cancers and some autoimmune disorders. Last month, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America released a report showing 295 vaccines in development against a wide variety of diseases, including 170 for infectious diseases, 102 for cancers and eight for neurological disorders, mostly Alzheimer’s disease, as well as multiple sclerosis.


In addition to their potential for fighting disease, vaccines also have opened up opportunities for pharmacy retailers. All 50 states now allow pharmacists to perform vaccinations, usually for such diseases as the flu and shingles, and pharmacies large and small have been busy sending their pharmacists to continuing education classes so they qualify to administer vaccinations. By now, customers at most of the major chains can simply walk in and get a vaccination, whereas before it required a visit to the doctor’s office.


Along the way, many new innovations have appeared as well. Retail clinics have been expanding their selection of vaccinations, which include immunizations against hepatitis, pneumonia, meningitis, pertussis and human papillomavirus. Meanwhile, some retail pharmacies have expanded their offerings as well. Bartell Drugs, a regional chain based in Seattle, offers travel clinics where customers can get vaccinated against diseases they might risk contracting abroad, such as hepatitis A and B and typhoid. Meanwhile, Good Neighbor Pharmacy, under a partnership with the University of Southern California, has been letting pharmacists enroll in an international travel health program for pharmacists who have received certification to administer specific immunizations and vaccines in their states.


More vaccinations also mean more patient data. Walgreens has a program with SureScripts that allows it to use the SureScripts e-prescribing network to share immunization data with patients’ primary care providers, and it plans to share the data with public health authorities later this year.

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High allergy incidence thanks to mild winter

BY Michael Johnsen

In contrast to the most recent cough-cold season, which was characterized by a relative lack of upper respiratory illnesses, pharmacy shoppers with itchy eyes, runny noses and audible sneezes have been back in force this spring in search of allergy relief. And those patients are gravitating toward the OTC aisle for their seasonal allergy needs now that the last of the second-generation antihistamines was made available without a prescription a year ago. 


“[The choice between Rx and OTC] really depends upon the severity of the symptoms,” said Stanley Fineman, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, noting there is still a market for nasal steroids and allergy shots. However, many patients have made the transition to the OTC aisles now that Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra are all available without a prescription. 


The allergy category is becoming more magnified, particularly for front-end buyers, noted Scott Hanslip, director of sales at IMS Health. “Once Allegra moved [OTC], there was a drop of about 67% in [Rx] antihistamine tablets from September 2010 through December 2011,” he said. On the OTC side, Allegra helped carry OTC allergy sales through spring 2011. “If you were to remove that Allegra volume, the OTC overall consumption business was way off because it was a really dismal spring period [last year],” Hanslip said. 


This year, allergy incidence and consumption is up significantly, however. In part because of a mild winter, tree pollens triggered the spring allergy season some four weeks earlier this year, Fineman observed. And that increase in sufferers earlier in the year will translate into fairly significant consumption gains, Hanslip said. “We’re looking at anywhere from a 5% to 15% lift [in people affected by airborne allergens],” he said. 


As of April 27, approximately 23 million people were affected by airborne allergens, representing 8.2% of all adults and 5.3% of all children under the age of 13 years, according to IMS Health tracking. 


Most of the markets are already in “alert” status, Hanslip noted, though there is still some strong activity expected across the North and Northeast where there is a strong predominance of allergy sufferers. “Several of those markets haven’t gone from pre-alert to alert yet,” he said. Localizing inventory and promotional spends is even more critical across allergy as compared with cold and flu, Hanslip said, with potential swings of millions of sufferers seeking relief as the variant pollen levels fluctuate. 


For the summer, the North and Northeast, Midwest and Southeast markets will see significant gains in allergy sufferers, Hanslip said.

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FDA advisory committee recommends OTC availability of HIV test

BY Michael Johnsen

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — OraSure Technologies on Tuesday announced that the Food and Drug Administration’s Blood Products Advisory Committee recommended that the OraQuick In-Home HIV test be made available without a prescription.

“There was broad support expressed by the HIV community at [the] meeting, and we look forward to continuing our work with them in the fight against HIV," stated OraSure president and CEO Douglas Michels. "We believe the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test will make a valuable contribution in this fight.”

The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test is an over-the-counter version of the OraQuick Advance Rapid HIV-1/2 Test, which is currently sold into the professional market. The OraQuick Advance test can detect antibodies to both HIV-1 and HIV-2 in oral fluid within 20 minutes, the company stated.


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