Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) last week launched a global campaign —‘A fair shot’. It’s calling 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.

MSF led a protest in front of Pfizer’s world headquarters in New York and attended the company’s shareholders’ meeting in New Jersey. See this video.

Kelly Nichols, Advocacy Manager for Médecins Sans Frontières Australia outlines the campaign in the post below.

Further reading from in the MSF field: http://www.msf.org.au/resources/editorials/editorial/article/many-disease-deaths-are-preventable-tragedies.html
http://blogs.msf.org/en/staff/blogs/msf-in-pakistan/the-tetanus-room

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Kelly Nichols writes:

Public health before profit

One child every 22 seconds dies of a vaccine preventable disease. That’s 1.5 million children each year. Pneumonia is one of the biggest child killers of all, yet only a quarter the world’s children have been immunised against it.

In the field, our doctors see too many children die of pneumonia, struggling to breathe.

But we can do something about this.

The pneumococcal vaccine produced by Pfizer and GSK is wonderfully effective. Just last month, New Zealand was heralding the success of its pneumococcal vaccination schedule, which had eliminated certain disease strains in children under five. Australia has also seen a huge drop in cases since it implemented universal pneumococcal vaccination for all young children and adults aged 65 and over.

But sky-high prices charged for the vaccine place it out of reach for those most urgently in need.

That’s why Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is calling on Pfizer and GSK to slash the price of the vaccine in developing and middle income countries to US$5 per child, so more children can be protected from this childhood killer.

The drug companies are saying they can’t afford it. GSK claims the price they are currently charging the poorest countries only just enables them to cover their costs. Pfizer says they are selling it at a price below the cost of manufacture. However we have no idea what these costs are. They are being guarded like a state secret.

But we do know that Pfizer and GSK have reported over US $23 billion in sales globally since launching the pneumococcal vaccine. Pfizer’s product was the best selling vaccine globally in 2014, bringing in more than US$4.4 billion.

And we also know that the current pricing is unequitable and unfair.

Some countries have to sign confidentiality clauses that prevent them from disclosing the price they pay for their vaccines, leaving them with no way to compare prices. It’s led to the irrational situation where some middle-income countries pay more for the pneumonia vaccine than wealthy ones. Why is the Philippines paying more than Australia?

So we are also calling on GSK and Pfizer to disclose what they currently charge countries for the vaccine.

US$5 per vaccine is both realistic and fair. If Pfizer and GSK say they cannot reduce the price, they should prove why.

I know how important this vaccine is. When I was wiped out with pneumonia last year, like any mum, my greatest fear was that my toddler would get sick. Luckily, because we live in Australia my son had been vaccinated.

I feel safe in betting that every parent in last week’s Pfizer shareholder meeting has also vaccinated their children, For them, like me, the prospect of their child dying from pneumonia, or meningitis or septicaemia – all prevented through this vaccine – is very remote. But for every person in that room, for every one of us who are privileged enough to live in Australia, the US or Europe, there are countless numbers of mothers desperate to offer their child the same basic protection, and who can’t.

We owe it to them to make this vaccine more available.

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Further note from MSF re its work:

Each year, Médecins Sans Frontières teams vaccinate millions of people, largely in response to disease outbreaks such as measles, meningitis, yellow fever and cholera. Médecins Sans Frontières also supports routine immunisation activities in projects where it provides health care to mothers and children. In 2013 alone, our colleagues delivered more than 6.7 million doses of vaccines to some of the world’s most vulnerable children.

Médecins Sans Frontières has purchased the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) in the past for use in its emergency operations. In 2013, Médecins Sans Frontières 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. Médecins Sans Frontières 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.

This year Médecins Sans Frontières launched numerous vaccination campaigns. These include: supporting the Sudanese Ministry of Health with measles immunisation coverage in Darfur; a measles and polio vaccination campaign for 18,000 children up to 15 years old, in the Central African Republic – most of them living in the IDP camp Batangafo; and a measles vaccination campaign in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, following an official declaration of an epidemic.

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