Merck, a global leader in drug and vaccine production, may be unable to produce hepatitis B vaccines until 2018 because of worldwide production disruptions resulting from the NotPetya ransomware attacks in June.
In late June 2017, Merck, one of the “big four” of the world’s leading vaccine producers, reported that its computer systems were affected by the NotPetya ransomware attack in late June, but details on how the company’s operations would be impacted were vague.
Merck’s Second-Quarter 2017 Financial Report states that
“On June 27, 2017, the company experienced a network cyber-attack that led to a disruption of its worldwide operations, including manufacturing, research and sales operations. While the company does not yet know the magnitude of the impact of the disruption, which remains ongoing in certain operations, it continues to work to minimize the effects.” The report goes on to state that it is “in the process of restoring its manufacturing operations” and that “the company anticipates that it will have temporary delays in fulfilling orders for certain other products in certain markets.”
According to the Merck Vaccines site, the hepatitis B vaccine Recombivax HB adult and pediatric formulations are listed as “Temporarily Unavailable for Order.” The hepetitis A vaccine, VAQTA, is also listed as “Temporarily Unavailable for Order” or “Backordered.”
The CDC Vaccine Shortages & Delays page states,
“Merck is not currently distributing its adult Hepatitis B vaccine and does not expect to be distributing adult Hepatitis B vaccine between now and the end of 2018. Additionally, Merck anticipates that its pediatric Hepatitis B vaccine will be unavailable between early August 2017 and early 2018. Merck’s supply of the dialysis formulation of Hepatitis B vaccine, however, is not affected and is expected to remain available. GSK [GlaxoSmithKline] has sufficient supplies of adult and pediatric Hepatitis B vaccines to address these anticipated gap in Merck’s supply of adult and pediatric Hepatitis B vaccines during these time periods; however, preferences for a specific presentation (i.e., vial versus syringe) may not be met consistently during this time.”
The production of the pediatric formulation of the hepatitis B vaccine is important because the CDC recommends that all newborn infants be vaccinated against hepatitis B.
Any disruption in vaccine and drugs production could endanger human lives. Shortages and production delays could be disastrous in the case of a disease epidemic like the H1N1 flu pandemics in 1918 and 2009.
The WannaCry attacks crippled the UK’s National Health Service. The NotPetya attacks affected hospitals in West Virginia and Pennsylvania and has now disrupted the production and availability of drugs and vaccines. These WannaCry and NotPetya global ransomware attacks are significant because, perhaps for the first time, cyberattacks have affected the health of the general public and their ability to access to healthcare and medicine.
According to a TechRepublic article published in OCT 2017, GARDASIL vaccine production was also affected.
“Due to a production shutdown caused by the attack, Merck saw sales reductions of around $240 million. This was because of ‘borrowing from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Pediatric Vaccine Stockpile of GARDASIL 9 (Human Papillomavirus 9-valent Vaccine, Recombinant), a vaccine to prevent certain cancers and other diseases caused by HPV’ and a higher-than-expected demand, Merck officials noted on the call.”
“Pharmaceutical giant Merck lost roughly $310 million in dealing with the devastating effects of the NotPetya ransomware outbreak, company officials said on an earnings call.”
Center for Disease Control, Current Vaccine Shortages & Delays
Merck Vaccines, Supply Status