Cost of vaccination has risen 68 times in a decade, says report

Crisis looms as donor withdraws support to African countries; MSF urges GSK, Pfizer to slash vaccine price

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Wednesday 21 January 2015

Photo by Ikram N’gadi, courtesy MSF

The price to vaccinate a child has increased 68 times in poor countries since 2001, with many nations unable to afford new high-priced vaccines like that against pneumococcal disease. The data is given in a report by international organization, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), released Tuesday. MSF called on pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Pfizer to slash the price of the pneumococcal vaccine to US $5 per child in developing countries, ahead of the much talked about vaccination donor conference in Berlin. Indian manufacturer Serum Institute has announced cheaper version of the 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 MSF’s Access Campaign. “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. 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,” he added.

The pneumococcal vaccine alone accounts for about 45 per cent of the total cost to vaccinate a child today in the poorest countries. GSK and Pfizer have collectively reported over US $19 billion in sales globally for the pneumococcal vaccine since its launch. MSF has urged GSK and Pfizer to reduce the pneumococcal vaccine price to $5 per child, which is only slightly less than the $6 price target announced by Serum Institute for a version it plans to bring to market in the next few years.  

The second edition of the vaccine pricing report, The Right Shot: Bringing Down Barriers to Affordable and Adapted Vaccines, questioned the secretive nature of pricing in the vaccine industry which hampers negotiations by countries with companies.

“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 MSF’s Access Campaign. Morocco pays US$63.70 and Tunisia $67.30 for the pneumococcal vaccine (PCV), while France pays $58.40. Morocco and Tunisia prices are those paid in hospitals and public institutions; France’s price is the manufacturer price—before it enters the wholesale and retail distribution network.

The urgency for reduction in vaccine price emerges from withdrawal of donor support. Many African countries are beneficiaries of donations from Gavi, the international vaccine alliance. Angola will lose this support in 2015, which means that its bill for new vaccines will rise by over 1,500 per cent. In Bolivia, the economic burden will increase by 700 per cent once Gavi withdraws financial support. Indonesia’s payment will increase by 1,547 per cent.

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

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