UNICEF to procure controversial pentavalent vaccine at lowest-ever prices

This step will significantly increase the distribution of pentavalent vaccine, which has been blamed for adverse health effects

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 20 October 2016

The side-effects of pentavalent vaccine are not clear yet (via Creative Commons)

United Nations Children's Fund will now procure pentavalent vaccine at the lowest ever prices. Six vaccine suppliers have offered to price the vaccine at an 84 cents (US currency) a dose average—half the price that the UN children’s agency currently pays.

In the next three years, UNICEF will buy 450 million doses to send to 80 countries. Four hundred million doses will be allocated to countries supported by Gavi—a vaccine alliance. Most of the countries eligible for support are from Africa and South Asia. The vaccine will protect tens of millions of children from potentially deadly infections caused by diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b, claims UNICEF.

Since 2001, strong collaboration on market shaping across Gavi Alliance partners, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WHO and UNICEF, has achieved an affordable pentavalent vaccine supply. The new pricing can also be accessed by governments who self-finance procurement of this cost-effective vaccine. It will generate over US $366 million in savings for donors and for governments.

“Ninety per cent of the world’s children under five who die from vaccine-preventable diseases live in countries whose vaccine supply is no longer fully funded by donors,” said Shanelle Hall, director of UNICEF’s supply and procurement headquarters. “For the most vulnerable children in the world, pricing can make a difference between life and death,” Hall added.

“Gavi estimates that 5.7 million deaths will be averted thanks to pentavalent vaccination in Gavi-supported countries between 2011 and 2020,” said Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the vaccine alliance. “The market for five-in-one vaccines is now a lot healthier than it was just a few years ago thanks to our collective efforts to grow a base of vaccine suppliers.”

Between 2001 and 2015, UNICEF’s pentavalent vaccine procurement jumped from 14.5 million to more than 235 million doses, mainly driven by the increase in demand in countries supported by Gavi.

Pentavalent problems

Even though multiple international organisation are promoting pentavalent vaccine, its side-effects are not clear yet. Multiple vaccine-related mishaps have been recorded in India, one of the countries eligible for Gavi allocations. In 2013, when the pentavalent drug was introduced in a pilot project, 13 deaths were reported from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Haryana, all pointing towards pentavalent as the cause. Even in May this year, Maharashtra’s state health department stopped the use of a batch of pentavalent vaccine after Central Drug Laboratory found it to be of substandard quality.

In Vietnam, since the vaccine was first used in 2007, at least 63 children have died after vaccination. Vietnam's health ministry suspended the vaccine in May 2013 after the death of nine children.

In 2011, India’s Union health ministry conducted an investigation into 54 infant deaths in Tamil Nadu, concluding that 'adverse events following immunisation were observed after administering pentavalent.

Many studies have also questioned pentavalent vaccine time and again. A study published by the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital in 2016, reports adverse effects on 60 per cent of the 200 children studied. The same study, however, concludes that pentavalent vaccine can be considered safe, as no death was reported.

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