Germany and Spain want to reduce deliveries of swine flu vaccine and potentially return excess supplies to manufacturers, due to low uptake of the shots, in a move that could hit drugmakers' profits.
Germany's health ministry said Thursday some German states were in talks with Britain's GlaxoSmithKline about reducing deliveries of H1N1 vaccine.
The German federal government will also start negotiations in January with other countries that might be interested in taking some of its excess supplies, it added.
Germany said this month it wanted to sell on some 2 million H1N1 vaccines due to weak demand at home.
Spain's health minister Trinidad Jimenez said her country was "speaking with the pharmaceutical companies" about returning unused vaccine, according to a report on the specialist news service APM Health Europe.
A health ministry official in Madrid said Spain expected to either return vaccines to suppliers so they could be sold at pharmacies, or send them to other European Union countries to help with their vaccination programs.
"The health ministry introduced clauses in contracts signed with GSK, Novartis and Sanofi-Pasteur which foresaw the possibility of returning surplus vaccines in case they were not necessary," he told Reuters. "Vaccination forecasts at the time were made on the basis that two doses per person would be needed, but this has not turned out to be the case."
A single dose of vaccine is now deemed sufficient for immunizing adults by health authorities around the world.
Germany ordered 50 million doses of H1N1 vaccine from Glaxo, while Spain bought 22 million doses from Novartis, 14.7 million from Glaxo and 400,000 from Sanofi-Aventis.
Glaxo said it was continuing to "support" governments in managing the H1N1 flu pandemic.
"This includes ongoing discussions for existing and new orders for our pandemic vaccines. As we have said previously, we cannot comment on the details or specifics of these contracts as they are confidential," a spokeswoman said.
A Sanofi official said it was not among companies involved in the discussions, while Novartis had no immediate comment.
Analysts at Morgan Stanley said revenues generated from swine flu were expected to total $600-million (U.S.) for Novartis, £2.2-billion for Glaxo and €750-million for Sanofi, to be booked in the last quarter of 2009 and first three months of 2010.
"The return of excess quantities by Germany and Spain creates downside risk of up to 15 per cent of total swine flu revenues for these companies," they said.
The World Health Organisation's flu expert Keiji Fukuda said countries with surplus vaccine had "a number of options" including donating it to those that have none, or keeping it in reserve for a later date.
Mr. Fukuda said that while the virus appeared to have peaked in North America, it was too soon to declare the pandemic over. "This is a virus that we don't expect to just suddenly disappear," he told a briefing.
The Geneva-based WHO is coordinating efforts to encourage rich countries to share vaccines with poorer nations that have little or no access to supplies.
Six manufacturers and 12 countries had so far pledged some 180 million doses of vaccines to be distributed to around 95 countries and the WHO expects to ship the first donated doses to Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Mongolia in the next few weeks.