Pharma urged to slash pneumococcal vaccine price

pneumococcal vaccine: vaccine across map of Africa

Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has urged the Australian Government to join the call for pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer to slash the price of the pneumococcal vaccine in developing countries, ahead of the Gavi vaccination donor conference in Berlin on 27 January.

As one of the top ten donors to Gavi, the Global Vaccine Alliance, Australia will join dozens of other countries at the conference to donate to the international effort to vaccinate children against preventable diseases. 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, which kills about one million children each year.

“As one of the top ten donors Australia has donated $250 million to Gavi over the past five years,” says Kelly Nichols, Advocacy Manager for Médecins Sans Frontières Australia.

“Saving children’s lives through vaccinating against deadly diseases like pneumonia is indeed one of the best investments Australia can make with its significantly reduced aid budget; but Australia needs to couple that aid with robust advocacy. That means joining the call for pharmaceutical companies to reduce their prices for developing countries.”

The pneumococcal vaccine alone accounts for about 45% of the total cost to vaccinate a child today in the poorest countries (the full package includes protection against 12 diseases). GSK and Pfizer have collectively reported over $19 billion in sales globally for the pneumococcal vaccine since its launch.

Médecins Sans Frontières is therefore urging GSK and Pfizer to reduce the pneumococcal vaccine price to US$5 per child (inclusive of all three doses), which is only slightly less than the US$6 price target (US$2/dose) announced by the Indian manufacturer Serum Institute for a version it plans to bring to market in the next few years.

Médecins Sans Frontières today released the second edition of its vaccine pricing report The Right Shot: Bringing Down Barriers to Affordable and Adapted Vaccines, which shines a light on the secretive vaccine industry and the striking lack of data on vaccine prices. In the poorest countries, the price to vaccinate a child is now 68 times more expensive than it was in 2001, with many parts of the world unable to afford new high-priced vaccines like that against pneumococcal disease.

Country health budgets are stretched by high prices because there is limited information to inform negotiations with companies, industry purposely conceals prices, there is a lack of market competition, and pharmaceutical companies charge wildly different prices 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,” sys Kate Elder, Vaccines Policy Advisor for Médecins Sans Frontières’ 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.”

More than a quarter of the countries currently eligible for donor support through Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance will lose it starting next year, after which they will be left to pay about $10 per child for the pneumococcal vaccine, which is unaffordable for many countries. Gavi estimates that when countries lose access to Gavi’s $10-per-child price, they could end up paying six times as much for the pneumococcal vaccine.

Angola is one country that will lose donor support in less than a year – in 2014, more than half of Gavi support for new vaccines in the country went to pay for the pneumococcal vaccine alone. Once the country loses support, its bill for new vaccines will rise by over 1,500%. Similarly, over 60% of Gavi’s support to Bolivia is wrapped up in the cost of the pneumococcal vaccine, and the Bolivian government’s payment will increase by over 700% when it loses support. Indonesia’s payment will increase by 1,547%.

“Governments need to put pressure on companies to offer better prices to Gavi and the countries it supports,” says 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.”

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