Pfizer pledges discounted Prevenar 13 in 'major' boost to humanitarian programs

A month after the global charity Médecins Sans Frontières publicly turned its back on Pfizer’s offer for a million free Prevenar 13 doses, the drug giant on Friday announced a “major expansion” to its humanitarian assistance with the vaccine.

To help address emergencies, Pfizer will reduce the price of its pneumococcal blocker Prevenar 13 to the “lowest prevailing global” cost of $3.10 per dose in such cases. What’s more, for the first year of the program, it’ll donate all proceeds “to humanitarian groups undertaking the difficult work of reaching vulnerable populations in emergency settings,” according to a statement.

The move follows years of public shaming by MSF, which repeatedly asked Pfizer and London pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline to lower their prices.

To get the new program started, Pfizer will offer a “short-term” donation of single-dose Prevenar 13 vials. Then, in 2017, the pharma giant will supply a multidose vial that contains four doses in the same size container.

The new formulation is “designed to address the unique conditions and challenges experienced in developing world settings and can help health workers in humanitarian emergencies,” Pfizer said in its statement. Back in July, when Pfizer announced WHO backing for the multidose vial, the company said the formulation vial could reduce temperature-controlled supply chain requirements, UNICEF shipping costs and storage requirements, all by 75%.

Pfizer’s surprise announcement on Friday follows an open letter issued in October by MSF U.S. Director Jason Cone, who explained that the charity couldn’t accept the company’s offer to donate 1 million Prevenar 13 doses. Cone said that “free is not always better,” and that the conditions that come with such donations can delay vaccination campaigns and “undermine long-term efforts to increase access.” He pointed out that corporate “goodwill” and donations "can disappear as quickly as they come." 

Pfizer’s Prevenar family is the best-selling vaccine franchise in the world, pulling in more than $6 billion in sales last year.

Pfizer's move also follows a decision by Pfizer's Big Pharma peer GlaxoSmithKline to lower the price of its own Synflorix during humanitarian emergencies. Back in September, GSK said it’d offer the pneumococcal vaccine at a price of $3.05 per dose for vaccination during crises.

For years, MSF has pushed for both companies to reduce their prices, with little success until recently. The charity used petitions and protests, and even dumped a pile of $17 million in fake money outside of Pfizer’s New York headquarters with the words “drop the price” painted on the bills.