As Gavi turns 20, MSF urges the vaccine alliance to protect more kids from pneumonia

Greece 2016 © Pierre-Yves Bernard/MSF

Geneva, January 21, 2020—On the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos and as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, commemorates its twentieth year and launches a new fundraising appeal, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls on the global vaccine community to ensure that the 55 million children who lack access to the pneumonia vaccine are protected against this deadly disease, especially now that a new, more affordable vaccine is finally available.

In December 2019, the first alternative pneumonia vaccine product was quality-assured by the World Health Organization (WHO), finally providing a more affordable alternative to Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) versions, which until now have been the only two pneumonia vaccines available worldwide. The newer vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India, is expected to be priced 30 percent lower than Pfizer and GSK’s lowest global prices, with a substantially less expensive version expected for middle-income countries. These countries make up the vast majority of the 50 countries that have not started to use the vaccine, primarily because of its high price.

“We have been working for the past decade to get affordable access to the pneumonia vaccine for our patients and are very encouraged that there is finally another more affordable version,” said Kate Elder, senior vaccines policy advisor at MSF’s Access Campaign. “The entire vaccination community needs to be moving mountains to make sure every country can start protecting all of its children against pneumonia, now that there’s finally a vaccine that won’t bankrupt countries’ health budgets. Now there’s no excuse—Gavi, the WHO, UNICEF, and the Gates Foundation all have a major role to play in making sure every last child is protected against this killer disease.”

About ten years ago, Gavi launched a special program to stimulate development of pneumonia vaccines that meet developing-country needs and to accelerate rollout of this lifesaving vaccine in the world’s poorest countries. This program—called the Advanced Market Commitment—involved paying a special subsidy to Pfizer and GSK in addition to the price they charged for the vaccine. The two corporations have so far been awarded US$1.2 billion of the $1.5 billion subsidy. MSF is now urging Gavi to not grant the remaining $262 million to Pfizer and GSK, but instead use it to introduce the new, more affordable vaccine.

Pfizer and GSK have earned a combined $50 billion globally in sales of the pneumonia vaccine to date, and have reduced their price to Gavi minimally over the last decade. At the same time, the pneumonia vaccine alone accounts for nearly half (44 percent) of what Gavi spends for 12 different vaccines.

Beyond countries that are eligible to receive support from Gavi are the dozens of middle-income countries that have struggled to introduce the pneumonia vaccine at all. While the lowest global price for the vaccine is $8.70 per child (for the world’s poorest countries) and the newer vaccine is expected to be priced at $6 per child, middle-income countries where MSF works, such as the Philippines and Lebanon, have been forced to pay as much as $49 and $245 to vaccinate a child, respectively, making it prohibitively expensive for these countries to use the vaccine.

“Gavi could have done much more over the years to push Pfizer and GSK to lower the pneumonia vaccine’s price, so that it didn’t eat up such a huge portion of their budget and governments had a better chance at affording their programs long term,” said Elder. “Now it’s time for the global vaccines community to make up for it and put all of its weight behind the introduction of this more affordable vaccine so that it benefits babies both in the poorest countries of the world as well as in places where babies and kids are still not receiving it.”