July 13, 2016

ATHENS/NEW YORK, JULY 14, 2016 — Pharmaceutical companies are making it exorbitantly expensive to vaccinate vulnerable children, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today, calling on Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to lower the price of the pneumonia vaccine (PCV) for governments and humanitarian organizations working in emergency contexts.

In recent weeks, MSF has vaccinated more than 5,000 refugee children between six months and 15 years of age in camps and settlements across Greece. Using multiple vaccines, the campaign is targeting 10 diseases including pneumonia, which is the single largest killer of children under five worldwide and is particularly acute in humanitarian crises.

MSF purchased the pneumonia vaccine for 60 euros, or about $68, per dose from local pharmacies in Greece. The price is 20 times more than the lowest global price of the vaccine, which is roughly $3.10 per dose. 

“Governments and humanitarian organizations need tools to protect children living through one of the biggest crises of our times,” said Dr. Apostolos Veizis, director of MSF’s medical operational support unit in Greece. “Pfizer and GSK must drop the price of the pneumonia vaccine.”

Despite vaccinating highly vulnerable children, humanitarian organizations such as MSF are unable to purchase vaccines at the lowest available price. This lowest global price for the pneumonia vaccine is only available to the world’s poorest countries through Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Three doses of the pneumonia vaccine are needed to provide full protection for a child.

The hexavalent vaccine used by MSF during these campaigns is also expensive, costing about $70 per dose. It protects against six diseases including diphtheria, tetanus and polio.

“With the collapse of the health care systems in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, most children living in the camps and outside have not been immunized in their country or during their journeys,” Veizis said. “These kids are living in horrendous conditions and should not suffer needlessly after fleeing for their lives. We have to protect them at all cost against pneumonia and other deadly diseases.”

To protect crisis-affected children MSF has been trying for more than six years to negotiate a lower price for the pneumonia vaccine with Pfizer and GSK, the vaccine’s only producers. So far, both companies have refused to reduce the price.

In May, MSF delivered the names of more than 416,000 people from 170 countries who signed a petition asking Pfizer and GSK to reduce the price of the pneumonia vaccine to $5 per child (for all three doses) for crisis-affected populations and for all developing countries.

MSF vaccinated 3,000 children in Idomeni on the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in May. MSF is also vaccinating children in camps in the Attica region in central Greece, the island of Samos and Athens and will soon begin vaccinations in the camps of Epirus and on the island of Lesbos in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.

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