GAVI Needs to Offer Lower Vaccine Prices to Humanitarian Groups

Negotiating with vaccine manufacturers leads to lengthy, unnecessary delays during medical emergencies, says MSF.

DRC 2008 © Anna Surinyach

An MSF staff member vaccinates a child for measles.

DAR ES SALAAM/GENEVA, DECEMBER 5, 2012—The GAVI Alliance should systematically extend the discounted vaccine prices it obtains from pharmaceutical companies to humanitarian organizations that are often well placed to reach unvaccinated children, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today at the GAVI Partners Forum meeting in Tanzania. Currently, humanitarian groups such as MSF are not able to obtain vaccines at GAVI prices, and are left to negotiate access to vaccines on a cumbersome case-by-case basis.

Officials estimate that one in every five children born in 2011—or 22.4 million—was not fully vaccinated. Through its work in unstable contexts and regions that persistently lag behind on vaccination, MSF is often close to children who are under- or unvaccinated. 

“We need to be able to act quickly and provide life-saving vaccines to vulnerable children as these opportunities arise,” said Florence Fermon, head of MSF’s Vaccination Working Group. “We can’t afford unnecessary delays trying to get hold of vaccines through lengthy negotiations.” 

MSF has tried in several places to obtain newer vaccines for use in its projects. In late 2010 and early 2011, it took MSF more than four months of negotiations with the Ministry of Health and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline to obtain the pneumococcal vaccine for use in its projects in Kenya. Such delays form a barrier to increasing access to vaccines for vulnerable children. 

MSF has unsuccessfully tried to obtain the pneumococcal vaccine from Pfizer at the GAVI price. 

At the core of the problem is that GAVI brokers deals with pharmaceutical companies that exclude other actors from accessing the prices. These deals often involve prices for vaccines that are still high and unaffordable for countries in the long run.

“We need access to vaccines when we need them, where we need them, and at an affordable price,” said Dr. Manica Balasegaram, executive director of MSF’s Access Campaign. “It’s time for GAVI to wake up and recognize that other actors vaccinating on the ground need fast and regular access to lifesaving vaccines at the lowest-possible prices.”

Each year MSF teams vaccinate over 10 million people, primarily as outbreak response to disease such as measles, meningitis, diphtheria, pertussis, and yellow fever. MSF also supports routine immunization activities in some projects where it provides health care to mothers and children.