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MSF launches global action against GSK and Pfizer over pneumonia vaccine price

Published on 12/11/15 at 10:01am
MSF poster
The charity MSF is calling for pharma companies to make pneumococcal vaccines cheaper, on World Pneumonia Day

International medical aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is taking action against GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, calling on the public to pressurise the pharma companies into reducing the price of pneumonia vaccines.

MSF is drumming up support through a petition and social sharing videos asking “for a fair price and transparent negotiations,” via the website AFAIRSHOT.ORG.

Pneumonia is the leading cause of childhood deaths around the world, and while a pneumococcal vaccine is available from both companies, MSF says it is too expensive to save the lives of people in the most desperate situations.

“What’s the point of a lifesaving vaccine if the most vulnerable people can’t afford it?” asks Dr Manica Balasegaram, executive director of MSF’s Access Campaign.

MSF has previously ramped up the pressure over the vaccines, publishing a report in January 2015, prompted GSK to issue a response in which it claimed about 80% of its vaccines, including pneumococcal, are provided to developing countries at a substantial discount to western prices.

The companies claim that they cannot afford further discounts as their sales would then not cover the cost of researching and developing this and other important vaccines.

But Dr Balasegaram says the pharma giants could and should implement further discounts to enable access: “The pneumonia vaccine is the world’s best-selling vaccine, and last year Pfizer brought in more than US$4.4 billion in sales just from this product,” he says. “GSK and Pfizer charge such high prices for the pneumonia vaccine that many governments and humanitarian organisations aren’t able to vaccinate children.

“After combined sales to date of more than US$28 billion for the pneumonia vaccine alone, we think it’s pretty safe to say that GSK and Pfizer can afford to lower the price so all developing countries can protect their children from this childhood killer.”

MSF went on to say that both pharma companies were not being transparent about the prices offered to many developing countries hoping to buy the vaccine. GSK said in May that it did not publish these prices due to “commercial sensitivities and anti-competition rules”. Pfizer’s Prevenar-13 is listed in the British National Formulary as costing £49.10 per dose, while GSK’s Synflorix is £27.60.

Joel Levy

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