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Doctors Without Borders urges major companies against increased vaccination prices

by Allanah Leahy – EM TV Online

In the poorest countries of the world, the price to vaccinate a child is 68 times more expensive than it was 14 years ago, according to a vaccine pricing report from Doctors Without Borders.

The report, titled ‘The Right Shot: Bringing Down Barriers to Affordable and Adapted Vaccines’ shows that people in many parts of the world are unable to afford new, high-priced vaccines to combat diseases, such as pneumococcal disease, which kills around one million children each year.

The full report can be read here. 

In Papua New Guinea, 4,000 children under the age of five die from pneumonia, most of whom are infants less than six months old.

Doctors Without Borders reports that over a quarter of countries eligible for donor support through ‘Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance’ will lose it’s vital support, starting next year.

Gavi estimates that countries without access to their $10-per-child price could end up paying up to six times as much for the pneumococcal vaccine.

“The price to fully vaccinate a child is 68 times more expensive than it was just over a decade ago, mainly because a handful of big pharmaceutical companies are overcharging donors and developing countries for vaccines that already earn them billions of dollars in wealthy countries,” said Rohit Malpani, Director of Policy and Analysis for Doctors Without Borders’ Access Campaign.

The pneumococcal vaccine, which is on the World Health Organisation’s model list of essential medicines, makes up 45 per cent of the total cost to vaccinate a child in the poorest countries (the full package includes protection against 12 diseases).

The two companies that created the pneumococcal vaccine, GSK and Pfizer, have collectively reported over $19 billion in global sales since the vaccine’s launch.

Doctors Without Borders has urged GSK and Pfizer to reduce the pneumococcal vaccine price to $5 per child – slightly less than the $6 price target Indian manufacturer Serum Institute has set for a version it plans to bring to the market in the next few years.

“Donors will be asked to put an additional $7.5 billion dollars on the table to pay for vaccines in poor countries for the next five years, with over one third of that going to pay for one vaccine alone, the high-priced pneumococcal vaccine; just think of how much further taxpayer money could go to vaccinate more children if vaccines were cheaper.

“We think it’s time for GSK and Pfizer to do their part to make vaccines more affordable for countries in the long term, because the discounts the companies are offering today are just not good enough,” Malpani said.

Doctors Without Borders has highlighted the secretive state the vaccine industry is currently in, which includes a striking lack of data on vaccine prices. Country health budgets have therefore been stretched by high prices due to limited information and concealed pricing among other factors, leading to gaping price differences in different markets for the same product.

“We have an irrational situation where some developing countries like Morocco and Tunisia are paying more for the pneumococcal vaccine than France does,” said Kate Elder, Vaccines Policy Advisor for Doctors Without Borders Access Campaign.

“Because of the astronomical cost of new vaccines, many governments are facing tough choices about which deadly diseases they can afford to protect their children against.”

Angola, a country that will be losing donor support starting next year, had allocated more than half of Gavi’s vaccine support to the pneumococcal vaccine alone. Once the country loses support, its bill for new vaccines will rise by over 1,500 per cent. Bolivia is in a similar situation.

“Governments need to put pressure on companies to offer better prices to Gavi and the countries it supports,” said Elder. “We need to put public health before profit – life-saving vaccines for children shouldn’t be big business in poor countries.

“In one week, donors will gather in Berlin to pledge more money for vaccination, so we’re asking GSK and Pfizer to hurry up and cut the price of the pneumococcal vaccine before then.”

Each year, the Doctors Without Borders team vaccinate millions of people mostly as outbreak response to diseases such as measles, meningitis, yellow fever and cholera. From 2012-2013, Doctors Without Borders recorded a 60 per cent increase in the number of doses administered in their projects.

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