MSF urges GSK, Pfizer to slash pneumococcal vaccine prices

The cost of vaccinating a child in the world's poorest countries is much higher than it was in 2001--68 times higher, according to Médecins Sans Frontières. The international charity has a problem with that, and it's asking pneumococcal disease vaccine makers Pfizer ($PFE) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) to fix it.

MSF has encouraged the pharma giants to sink the prices on their pneumococcal disease blockers to $5 per child in poor countries, Reuters reports. Pneumococcal shots--Pfizer's Prevenar 13 and GSK's Synflorix--account for about 45% of the cost of fully vaccinating a child against 12 diseases, MSF says.

While prices for the vaccines aren't disclosed in all countries, there's much variation in countries where they are disclosed, The Guardian reports. Hospitals in developing Morocco, for example, pay close to $64, while in Tunisia they pay $67. But the manufacturing price in France? About $58--an "irrational situation," Kate Elder, the vaccines policy adviser for MSF's access campaign, told the publication.

The way the charity sees it, "a handful of big pharmaceutical companies are overcharging donors and developing countries for vaccines that already earn them billions of dollars in wealthy countries," policy and analysis director for the access campaign Rohit Malpani said, as quoted by Reuters. GSK and Pfizer have reported more than $19 billion in global sales for pneumococcal vaccines since they rolled out, it says.

Pfizer's Prevenar 13, the best-selling jab in the world, as racked up most of those. In 2013, it hauled in $4.048 billion around the globe, and until recently, the Prevenar franchise had been propelling the drug giant's vaccines unit on its own. Glaxo's Synflorix has hauled in less than $3 billion since it launched, the British pharma told Bloomberg.

But both companies say their prices are justified. Glaxo, calling Synflorix "one of the most complex" vaccines it has ever manufactured, told Reuters discounting the shot would threaten the company's ability to supply it long-term. And according to Pfizer, it takes "more than two years to create a batch of Prevenar 13, encompassing some 500 quality control tests … multiple facilities and hundreds of trained professionals," it said in a statement.

But MSF adviser Elder, for one, isn't buying it. "We need to put public health before profit," she told Reuters. "Life-saving vaccines for children shouldn't be big business in poor countries."

- get more from Reuters
- read the Guardian piece
- see Bloomberg's take

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