CSL, GlaxoSmithKline named in H1N1 vaccine price-fixing probe

November 7, 2009

Chad Bray, From: Dow Jones Newswires

The Australian November 3 2009

CONNECTICUT Attorney-General Richard Blumenthal is probing allegations of price-fixing and preferential treatment in the distribution of the seasonal flu vaccine.

Mr Blumenthal yesterday said in a statement that he had sent letters to four manufacturers and nine distributors of the flu vaccine, seeking information on the prices they charge and the rationale used to allocate supplies.

The state A-G also wants details on what steps may be taken to assure equitable distribution of limited vaccine supplies.

The manufacturers include units of GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, AstraZeneca and CSL.
“I am asking vaccine makers and distributors to detail prices, supply levels and distribution methods, and criteria to guard against favouritism and gouging,” Mr Blumenthal said.

“I will fight to assure no one makes a killing off the seasonal flu vaccine shortage – potentially endangering seniors and the sick – and everyone who needs a shot gets one.”

Mr Blumenthal said his office had received complaints of seasonal flu vaccines being offered at many times the normal price – as much as $US100 a dose, or higher – and preferential treatment in distribution to large retailers.

His office had also received complaints that distributors and manufacturers were reneging on price agreements and demanding higher prices for consignments that had already been ordered, and distributors were buying back vaccine for resale at inflated prices, Mr Blumenthal said.

Sarah Alspach, speaking for GlaxoSmithKline, confirmed that a letter had been sent to the company’s corporate headquarters in Britain.

“We intend to fully co-operate with the Attorney-General’s request for information,” Ms Alspach said. She said that the company’s seasonal flu vaccine prices were publicly available on the website of the US Centre for Disease Control.

CSL did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment yesterday in the US.

A Sanofi official said the company was yet to receive the letter from Mr Blumenthal’s office and declined further comment.

Said Karen Lancaster, a spokeswoman for AstraZeneca’s MedImmune unit: “All of MedImmune’s production goals for seasonal flu vaccine have been met and we completed manufacturing for our seasonal vaccine prior to any work we did on a vaccine for H1N1.

“We started and ended the season with the same number in mind. We started the season with plans to manufacture 10 million doses and that’s how many were made available.”

Last month, Mr Blumenthal had asked Novartis for information about the supply of the seasonal flu vaccine that it expected to make available to the Visiting Nurse Association, which represents nationwide nurse groups that provide home-based health care.

Mr Blumenthal yesterday said that Novartis has agreed to deliver to several Connecticut Visiting Nurse Associations their full vaccine supply, as well as to double its doses to national associations.

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