Are Vaccines a Shot in the Arm for the Pharma Industry?



By DJ Edgerton

Quick. What do you know about vaccines?

Unless you work directly in the field, there are probably two main points that spring to mind first. One, that it’s flu shot time. Two, some reference to the vocal minority that fears vaccines (think celebrity Jenny McCarthy).

But how about this fact about vaccines? This spring, the global vaccine market was estimated to be growing at a rate of nearly 17%, to reach US$21 billion next year.

And then realize this: that estimate was made before the WHO declared the global H1N1 pandemic.

The 2005 flu-vaccine shortage may have been the first recent event that made everyone take notice of the corner of the industry that had been quietly chugging along.

(Four years ago, vaccines made up a modest 3% of the Pharma industry at about $9 billion.)

Then Gardasil was approved in 2006. The way its efficacy made parents consider their daughters’ future sex lives made it instantly controversial, and put vaccines back in the headlines again.

And now, flu vaccines are back in the headlines and those headlines are bigger than ever.

So, do headlines automatically mean growth, profits, innovations? Of course not. But they do help.

The vaccine business, however, is by definition very different from the pharmaceutical industry overall. In this case, you are not creating or selling medications that cure acute illness – so there’s less sense of urgency on the part of the consumer. And you are not creating or selling medications to be taken for a lifetime to treat chronic conditions – so there’s less profit to be made.

What the headlines are doing is, they’re shaking up both of those mindsets. Vaccines are an urgent need – and there is profit to be made.

So of course now we go back to our focus here – what does this have to do with digital? Quite a lot, actually.

Google Flu Trends is the best known mashup of social media and epidemiology but there are many, for Twitter as well as others.

And moving beyond data to opinion, don’t underestimate the power of social media in growing and strengthening conversations about vaccines, or the importance of monitoring those conversations to see what the current public concerns are.

Both Pharma execs and patients are gaining an appreciation for the importance of vaccines as part of the industry. I believe this will continue, and I believe that by staying abreast of online conversations and data, we can be informed enough to help them create and find the information they need.

Whats your company doing to take advantage of the vaccine trend?



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