NEW YORK—Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today launched a global campaign—"A FAIR SHOT"— to call on pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Pfizer to slash the price of the pneumococcal vaccine in developing countries to US$5 per child, so more children can be protected from this childhood killer, and to disclose what they currently charge countries for the vaccine.
To kick off the campaign, MSF staff attended Pfizer’s shareholder meeting in New Jersey today to ask a question from the floor, pushing the company’s board members to disclose the price of their pneumonia vaccine in all countries. MSF also handed out documents with key information blacked out to highlight the deadly secrecy surrounding vaccine pricing.
In January, MSF released its vaccine pricing report, The Right Shot: Bringing Down Barriers to Affordable and Adapted Vaccines, which showed that in the poorest countries, the price to vaccinate a child is now 68 times more expensive than in 2001, with many parts of the world unable to afford new high-priced vaccines like that against pneumococcal disease, which kills about one million children each year.
"As doctors who have seen too many children die of pneumonia, struggling to breathe, we are asking anyone who cares about children’s lives to join our public call on Pfizer and GSK to make sure all developing countries can afford to protect all their babies against this killer disease," said Dr. Greg Elder, director of operations for MSF in Paris. "The sky-high prices Pfizer and GSK charge for the pneumococcal vaccine prevent many governments and humanitarian organizations from vaccinating children, and after seeing the price to vaccinate a child rise substantially over the past decade, we have no choice but to take action now."
Part of the reason vaccination has become so costly is linked to the fact that very little information on vaccine pricing is available, leaving many developing countries and humanitarian agencies to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies from a very weak position, with no way to compare prices. Some countries have to sign confidentiality clauses that prevent them from disclosing the price they pay for their vaccines.
In around 45 countries, there is no information about the price for the pneumococcal vaccine; this secrecy and lack of transparency in how companies set prices prevents governments from having a fair shot at protecting their children with an affordable vaccine. It’s led to the irrational situation where some middle-income countries pay more for the pneumococcal vaccine than wealthy ones; it would be as if we wrote that ████ pays more than France and some countries pay multiple times more than others: South Africa pays almost three times more than ████. How would we know the truth?* (answers below).
"It's absurd to see the pricing information of a lifesaving product kept secret, with countries and organizations left in the dark when trying to negotiate a fair price," said Dr. Manica Balasegaram, executive director of MSF’s Access Campaign. "The level of pharma’s secrecy is astonishing—we can’t get information from Pfizer and GSK on what they charge countries for the pneumococcal vaccine. The question we are asking today is, how any country can negotiate fair vaccine prices when critical information is missing?"
Ahead of World Immunization Week, MSF called on the public to support its campaign on social media, using a provocative censored text tactic that highlights the lack of information on vaccine prices, in order to increase pressure on the companies to be more transparent.
MSF is now urging people everywhere to #AskPharma to disclose the price of the pneumococcal vaccine and to ask GSK and Pfizer to reduce the price of the vaccine to $5 or less per child ($1.66 per dose for three doses) in developing countries.
*Answers: Tunisia pays more than France; South Africa pays almost three times more than Brazil.
Each year, MSF teams vaccinate millions of people, largely as outbreak response to diseases such as measles, meningitis, yellow fever and cholera. MSF also supports routine immunisation activities in projects where it provides health care to mothers and children. In 2013 alone, MSF delivered more than 6.7 million doses of vaccines and immunological products. MSF has purchased the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in the past for use in its emergency operations. In 2013, MSF vaccinated with PCV and pentavalent vaccine in Yida refugee camp, South Sudan. In 2014, similar vaccination activities with the PCV vaccine were conducted for refugees in Uganda and Ethiopia. MSF is scaling up its use of the PCV vaccine and other vaccines with a particular focus on improving its work in routine immunisation, as well as extending the package of vaccines used in humanitarian emergencies.