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US measles outbreak helps boost Merck's vaccine sales in second quarter

Key Points
  • Sales of children's vaccines, which includes the New Jersey-based company's MMR vaccine for measles, jumped 58% year over year to $675 million, Merck announces in its second-quarter earnings report.
  • Merck says the strong growth is due in part to this year's measles outbreak, which was the largest in the U.S. since 1992.
A nurse holds up a one dose bottle and a prepared syringe of measles, mumps and rubella virus vaccine made by Merck at the Utah County Health Department on April 29, 2019 in Provo, Utah.
George Frey | Getty Images

Pharmaceutical giant Merck said Tuesday that high consumer demand for its measles vaccines, amid the largest U.S. outbreak in decades, helped boost sales in its second quarter.

Sales of children's vaccines, which includes the New Jersey-based company's MMR vaccine, for measles, mumps and rubella, jumped 58% year over year to $675 million, Merck announced in its second-quarter earnings report Tuesday. Merck, which is the sole U.S. supplier of measles vaccines, said the strong growth was due in part to this year's measles outbreak, which was the largest in the U.S. since 1992.

"There was some buying to the private sector within the U.S. this quarter based on some of the measles outbreaks that you read in the news," Merck Chief Commercial Officer Frank Clyburn said in a post-earnings conference call with investors. "And we do believe that we'll continue to see growth for our pediatric vaccines going forward."

Shares of Merck were up more than 1% in midmorning trading after posting quarterly earnings and revenue that easily beat Wall Street's estimates. The company also narrowed its earnings and revenue forecast for the year due to its $1 billion acquisition of biotech firm Peloton Therapeutics, announced in May.

In May, Merck said it had increased production of the measles vaccine to meet an uptick in demand in the U.S. in the midst of the country's biggest outbreak in decades.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 1,164 individual cases of measles as of July 25. The CDC said the new cases represented a 1.4% increase in the number of cases from the previous week. Officials had officially declared measles eliminated in 2000, but warned that if cases continued to climb this year the U.S. may lose its "eliminated" status.

Before the creation of the measles vaccine in the 1960s, the disease infected an estimated 3 million to 4 million people, hospitalized 48,000 and claimed the lives of between 400 and 500 people annually.

Measles started to spread again in recent years as more parents refused to vaccinate their children, even though health officials stress immunizations are the best way to protect against the measles. The World Health Organization reported a 300% increase in measles cases in the first three months of this year compared with the same time last year.

— CNBC's Angelica LaVito contributed to this report.