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Influenza vaccine demand: The chicken and the egg. Issue brief


Layton, C., Robinson, T., & Honeycutt, A. (2005). Influenza vaccine demand: The chicken and the egg. Issue brief. (Prepared for Office of Science and Data Policy, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI International.


The demand for influenza vaccine is a critical component in its availability. Unlike childhood vaccines whose demand is relatively simple for vaccine manufacturers to predict, influenza vaccine demand is more uncertain. As one expert explained,
- we don’t have … signals in society that tell us what the size of the market is going to be [for influenza vaccine]. We have that for all of the pediatric vaccines simply because demographers can tell us what the birth cohort is going to be … Anybody who knows what that birth cohort is 5 years from now … knows the number of doses of vaccine you’re going to have to give … We don’t have that kind of signal for the demand of flu [vaccine].

Meanwhile, because influenza vaccine is a seasonal product, vaccine manufacturers are reluctant to produce more influenza vaccine than they believe they can sell in a given season.
- flu vaccine … changes every year and you throw out stock that [is unused at the end of a season]. So that’s why people try to manufacture just what they think they can sell every year. You can’t sell it next year. If you [are] making measles vaccine you can stockpile. You can’t do that for flu vaccine. So that’s behind the idea of demand driving supply.

Although influenza vaccine demand and supply are intricately linked (Figure 1), it appears that demand is the “tail that wags the dog.” However, regardless of whether demand or supply is more important, the reality is that, to protect the public’s health—especially those at increased risk for complications from influenza—demand for influenza vaccine is key to increasing the overall supply.