H1N1 drop-off, leftover stock could mean ‘weak’ season

NEW YORK —H1N1 proved to be a significant driver behind cough-cold sales this past season, though overall illness rates were low relative to years past, and it still was considered a “weak” season.

The H1N1 hype certainly drove retailers to stock their cough-cold sets early in the cold season, though. But the precipitous drop-off in illness rates after the first of the year may have retailers cautious going into the 2010-2011 season. “The recent indication from the [Flu/Cold/Respiratory Activity Notification is that] they are predicting that [illness rates] will be the same level as this past year,” said Matrixx Initiatives president and CEO Bill Hemelt during a recent conference call. “So that assumes a relatively weak season [for 2010-2011].”

Hemelt also noted that there are several retailers who still are heavy in cough-cold product coming out of this past season, which suggests they won’t be heavy buyers going into next season.

A recent Harris Interactive poll measuring public perception found that only 12% of adults thought they had the flu this past winter, fewer than the 15% to 21% who thought they had the flu in other winters since 2004.

Separately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more Americans were actually vaccinated against seasonal flu during the 2009-2010 season (40% of eligible population) as compared with the prior season, when 33% of the eligible population was inoculated. The greatest gain in vaccination rates was in children 6 months to 17 years. Approximately 40% of children were vaccinated for seasonal flu last season, representing a 16% point jump from the 2008-2009 season.

“This report shows real success in vaccinating school-aged children, and it underscores additional opportunities to expand the use of school-located clinics in the 2010-11 season,” stated Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.