WHO adopts plan to make vaccines cheaper and more accessible

Calls for transparency around vaccine pricing and procurement

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Thursday 28 May 2015

Photo by Ikram N’gadi, courtesy MSF

The member states at the World Health Assembly have adopted a global vaccine action plan to improve access to sustainable supplies of affordable vaccines.

World Health Organization (WHO) will now coordinate efforts to address gaps in the way of achieving full immunisation by 2020. One of the major aspects of the action plan is the call for transparency around vaccine pricing and exploring pooling the procurement of vaccines. WHO Secretariat will now be responsible for identifying and reporting barriers that undermine efforts to reduce price of new vaccines, and to address any other factors that might adversely affect the availability of vaccines.

Earlier, Libya which had introduced amendments in the action plan during the assembly, had said that this is one step towards more accessible and affordable vaccines. "We should be proud to take a step in the right direction for our children," said the Libyan delegate. USA who had objected to the way the amendment was introduced at the last moment. The countries had come in with concerns as they had made enormous investments in closing gaps in vaccine coverage. They reiterated that Libya should have introduced the resolutions in November-December. Canada seconded them.

Delegate Almokhtar A Almokhtar, director of International cooperation office in Ministry of Health for Libya, told Down To Earth about what motivated them to raise the pricing issue. "We want every child to be vaccinated but we are at war and our budget is divided between the wounded and the children," he said. If the vaccines are available at lower price, we would be able to use our budget better, he added.

International non-profit Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) that had lobbied strongly for this transparency too was satisfied with the resolution. We can now get more work done, says Kate Elder, Vaccines Policy Advisor with MSF, New York. As of now, we have to buy vaccines at double the price at which GAVI, the global vaccine alliance, gets from the industry, she added.

Though the patent issue raised by Thailand has not been resolved in the action plan, Almokhtar says that they let the plan be passed as they did not want it to be delayed. It was a heated discussion during the informal meeting. While USA had 19 amendments, we accepted just 3, he added.

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