Historically slow cough, cold & flu season

Now that four (P&G, J&J, GSK and Sanofi) of the world’s Top 6 consumer healthcare marketers have reported their latest quarterly results, two of the key takeaways are that 1) industry growth has proven very resilient in the face of the challenges posed by the pandemic, and 2) we are in the middle of an historically slow cough, cold & flu season in 2020-21, and CHC marketers with portfolios that skew heavily towards CCA products will continue to feel the impact of this trend on overall growth.

Figures from the WHO’s FluNet service show the quasi-total wipeout of flu at a global level. Despite some signs of very low levels of flu circulation in certain regions tracked by WHO, including Africa and the Western Pacific, the overall picture at a global level is stark, with an almost complete drop-off in global infections since Q1 2020. The data shown in the WHO chart below are provided remotely by National Influenza Centres (NICs) of the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) and other national influenza reference laboratories collaborating actively with GISRS, or are uploaded from WHO regional databases.

Source: FluNet (www.who.int/flunet), GISRS

This trend is backed up by recent reports at a country level too. According to data obtained by The Times newspaper, UK flu cases are down by 95%; in the second week of January – the peak of the season – the number of reported influenza-like illnesses was 1.1 per 100,000 people vs a 5-year average rate of 27. This reflects similar trends in many other countries, including USA. While a billion people typically get flu globally each year, “much less than a tenth” of that figure will do so, according to leading expert John McCauley. There are a number of theories for the decline; lockdown restrictions, social distancing and the wearing of masks, and an increased focus on good hygiene practices have helped to prevent Covid, but also reduce the spread of other contagious illnesses. A major fall in international travel has curbed infections, while there has also been a huge take-up of the influenza vaccine. Meanwhile, some experts believe the spread of Sars-CoV-2 may have raised immunity against other viruses.

Nicholas Hall said: “Before Covid, we thought we knew the dynamics of consumer healthcare very well. I’ve given endless presentations quoting the three practical drivers of demand: Switch, the Emerging Markets and very importantly Cold & Flu pandemics. It’s fair to say that, without Covid, we would by now be lamenting a year of poor CHC sales. The actuality is that, with the exception of Voltaren Arthritis Pain and Differin in USA, there have been no significant switches in the past 3-4 years. The Emerging Markets still deliver, of course, but not at the stellar levels of the recent past; and we would by now be reading of the low impact on sales of the cough, cold & flu season.”

Explore the impact of lockdown on cases of cold & flu, and what the implications may be for CHC medicines, in our recently published Cough, Cold & Allergy report. For more information, or to order your copy, please contact melissa.lee@NicholasHall.com.