MSF: Humanitarian discount policy will increase access to rotavirus vaccines for children

clinical trials rotavirus

Niger 2016 © Krishan Cheyenne/MSF

NEW YORK/GENEVA, MARCH 4, 2021—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) welcomes GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) announcement today of an agreement to supply rotavirus vaccines to the Humanitarian Mechanism. This deal will ensure children caught in humanitarian crises have access to this lifesaving vaccine by making it available to humanitarian organizations like MSF at a reduced price.

The Humanitarian Mechanism was jointly launched by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, MSF, and Save the Children in May 2017. It aims to facilitate timely access to affordable vaccines for entities such as civil society organizations, governments, or UN agencies procuring on behalf of populations facing humanitarian emergencies. Unfortunately, the vaccines currently offered through the Humanitarian Mechanism are limited to use by civil society organizations and UN agencies and does not allow governments responding to emergencies to secure supply from this stock of vaccines.

The rotavirus vaccine is only the second vaccine to be committed to the mechanism. Prior to today’s announcement, the pneumonia vaccine was the only vaccine pledged to the mechanism by Pfizer and GSK. The Humanitarian Mechanism has so far facilitated access to more than one million doses of the pneumonia vaccine for children caught in humanitarian emergencies in 12 countries—over 63 percent of which were accessed by MSF for vaccination interventions in Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Greece, Nigeria, Niger, South Sudan, and Syria.

Rotavirus infection is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in children under five years of age globally and is responsible for up to 200,000 deaths per year. Children in refugee or internally displaced people camps are among the most vulnerable in the world to such infections due to crowded and often unsanitary conditions.

Due to the high price and lack of availability of the rotavirus vaccine, many children have been left unprotected against rotavirus infection. In 2019, only 39 percent of children globally under the age of one had been immunized against rotavirus infection. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance—a donor-funded organization that helps the poorest countries access newer vaccines—was the only entity that was able to access GSK’s rotavirus vaccine at a special reduced price of $1.88. But this left children in many countries, including those in refugee camps across the globe, without access to the vaccine, and organizations like MSF were not able to buy it at this special price to protect children in need.

Miriam Alia, vaccination and outbreak response referent for MSF, said of the announcement:

“Having witnessed too many children caught in emergencies die from diarrhea caused by rotavirus infection, MSF is thrilled to see that the rotavirus vaccine has finally been pledged to the Humanitarian Mechanism. For too long, the high price and unavailability of the rotavirus vaccine has meant that many children around the globe each year were left unprotected against this childhood killer that can be easily prevented with a vaccine.

“Vaccination is critical for children in crisis settings since they are among the world’s most vulnerable to infections and yet often lack access to essential health services.

“The addition of the rotavirus vaccine to the Humanitarian Mechanism is a huge step forward because it means that we will be able to vaccinate kids in crisis against rotavirus, but it’s only the second vaccine to be made available through the mechanism.

“We need more commitments from other rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccine manufacturers, and we need to see additional vaccines, including typhoid fever and human papillomavirus vaccines, being pledged by manufacturers. And, finally, we need governments hosting children in crisis to be able to access these special prices, too, so that the mechanism can reach its full potential and many more lives can be saved.”