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Drug firms cut vaccine prices

7th June 2011

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), a  group which includes several leading drugmakers, wants to cut the prices of vaccines accross the board for people in developing countries.

World Health

The move should help the alliance narrow sizeable funding gap for what it has promised to achieve in the developing world.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Merck on Monday both offered to cut the cost of some of their vaccines as part of the initiative, which aims to prevent 4 million child deaths by 2015.

GSK said that it would provide its Rotarix rotavirus vaccine to GAVI at US$2.50 per dose, meaning people would need to pay US$5 to fully immunise a child.

Merck said it would decrease the price of its equivalent vaccine to US$3.50 a dose once the purchase volume increased to 30 million doses.

In return, richer countries will have to pay more money to receive the same vaccine.

The same rotavirus vaccine would cost about US$50 in the US.

Julie Gerberding, president of Merck Vaccines, said long-term purchase commitments would help developing countries to speed up the availability of vaccines.

Rotavirus-related diarrhoea kills over half-a-million children annually.

In 2009, the WHO recommended that all countries should include rotavirus vaccines in their national programs.

However, the same vaccines are often too expensive for poorer countries to buy.

GAVI, in essence, wants to fund the bulk-buying of expensive vaccines for developing countries.

Andrew Witty, chief executive of GSK, said that what companies needed was a way of investing in the next generation of vaccines and drugs, but that people in Kenya or Malawi could not contribute to that effort by becoming consumers.

The move has its critics.

Donald Light, a professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey, said that while he believed the taxpayers of affluent countries and their leaders should support saving poor children and reducing global poverty, people should also be able to get a critical review of how such money was actually being spent.

He said that the GAVI model depended on giving more and more money to countries in ways that were not self-sustaining.

The French NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Oxfam both expressed reservations about the way the GAVI board of directors consisted mainly of big pharmaceutical companies.

Mohga Kamal-Yanni, Oxfam senior policy adviser, said she believed that pharmaceutical companies' representation on GAVI's board created a conflict of interest, and that the organisation's current structure was far too cozy.

Although vaccines are generally seen as the most cost-effective way to intervene in an ongoing health crisis, some people are also worried that certain vaccines do not actually work for more than a limited time.

Kim Mulholland, professor of child health and vaccinology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said there were nearly 100 strains that could cause pneumonia, and that the disease often adjusted to the use of a vaccine by infecting people with another strain.

He said that, while he wanted to see all the children in the world vaccinated against pneumococcal disease, he felt a scientific approach needed to be used to determine which was the proper vaccine.

 

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