Are big drug firms cashing in on vaccine aid billions?

The Mirror, June 13, 2011

There was already acclaim for yesterday’s conference after Glaxo-SmithKline announced it will sell its £8 a dose rotavirus vaccine for less than £3 a dose to low-income countries through GAVI. But is this the best price?

A new reality is emerging in vaccine development and production. Manufacturers in India match the quality standards of the big Western pharmaceutical companies and sell their vaccines at a fraction of the price.

In March this year, the Chinese regulatory authority was validated by the World Health Organization. This means low-cost, quality vaccines produced in China can now be approved for purchase by UNICEF, GAVI and others to serve the global marketplace.

Glaxo-SmithKline and Pfizer are selling the [rotavirus] vaccine to GAVI through a scheme called the Advance Market Commitment. This is a £900million subsidy scheme, a pot of money at the World Bank. Why should GAVI need to give a huge subsidy when the two companies making the vaccine are Pfizer and GSK? They do not need the money.

New versions of pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines being sold to GAVI were first designed for use in rich countries. The rotavirus vaccine, for example, which protects against diarrhoeal diseases, takes up large amounts of precious refrigerator space and can only be given to children under nine months old. So reaching children in remote locations with these vaccines is challenging.

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