As governments and the global vaccines community gather this week at the first-ever Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia in Barcelona, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) urges Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to commit to supporting the introduction of a new, more affordable version of the pneumonia vaccine, particularly in countries where it has not been introduced because of its high price.
Today, 55 million children are left unprotected against pneumonia, the number one childhood killer.
Middle-income countries make up the vast majority of the 50 countries where the pneumonia vaccine has not yet been introduced. Many countries have been unable to afford the high-priced pneumonia vaccine that for decades was only manufactured by pharmaceutical corporations Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
Meanwhile, the companies together have made over R729.49 billion globally in sales of the vaccine to date. In December 2019, WHO quality-assured a third pneumonia vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
Expected to be less expensive than Pfizer and GSK’s products, the newer version of the vaccine could help to improve access and save many more lives. The Serum Institute has stated that they plan to sell the vaccine at about R87.54 per child for countries that are eligible to receive support from Gavi (30% lower than what Pfizer and GSK charge Gavi), and for no more than about R160.49 per child for middle-income countries, a substantial reduction from what the corporations charge in middle-income countries.
“It’s appalling that millions of kids are left unprotected against pneumonia simply because of where they live,” said Kate Elder, Senior Vaccines Policy Advisor at MSF’s Access Campaign.
“High prices driven by corporate greed has meant that many middle-income countries cannot afford the pneumonia vaccine. The arrival of a new and more affordable vaccine could be a pivotal moment for all governments to protect their children, especially for middle-income countries that today simply can’t pay for Pfizer and GSK’s expensive products.”
While the world’s poorest countries can access the pneumonia vaccine through Gavi at a special price (R127.66 per child), middle-income countries are left to negotiate prices and finance the pneumonia vaccine on their own and are charged much higher prices.
Information about how much Pfizer and GSK charge in different countries is shrouded in secrecy, meaning middle-income countries are unable to negotiate prices fairly and their children are left unprotected against deadly diseases like pneumonia.
In most middle-income countries where MSF works, the pneumonia vaccine is prohibitively expensive; in some places where MSF works, for example, prices range between R714.90 (Philippines) and R3 574.52 (Lebanon) per child.
The result is that in 2018, while 90% of Gavi-supported countries have introduced the pneumonia vaccine, only 52% of middle-income countries are able to protect their children against the deadly disease.
“Countries and key members of the global vaccines community must seize the opportunity this week to come together and support the rollout of the new pneumonia vaccine, particularly in countries where it hasn’t been introduced because of its high price,” said Elder.
“Gavi, WHO, UNICEF and the Gates Foundation must double down and quickly work to alleviate any barriers to introducing this new vaccine in the places that haven’t yet been able to protect their kids against pneumonia - 40% of the world’s children are counting on them.”
Gavi should work to support their eligible countries, particularly those that will soon lose Gavi financing, to introduce this more affordable vaccine; WHO and UNICEF should work to help countries overcome any regulatory barriers to introducing the vaccine in their countries, and the Gates Foundation should work to continue gathering the critical research that supports countries to choose the pneumonia vaccine most appropriate for their epidemiological needs.