As Vaccine Prices Soar, Big Pharma Profits | Stephen Cornish

As Vaccine Prices Soar, Big Pharma Profits | Stephen Cornish

Last week in Berlin more than 15 countries, along with the European Commission, the Gates Foundation and others, pledged over US$7.5 billion to buy vaccines for the children of the world's poorest countries for the next five years. Canada alone pledged $500 million to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. While this is great news for the millions of children living in the 73 countries supported by Gavi, there were other big winners: the pharmaceutical companies that benefit from the soaring vaccine prices they charge for vaccines worldwide.

One of the new vaccines Gavi is tasked with introducing is the pneumonia vaccine (PCV), which aims to combat a major childhood killer in developing countries. A dramatic 37 per cent (or US$2.8 billion) of the total amount raised for Gavi last week from taxpayers and private foundations will go to pay for just this one high-priced vaccine, which today is produced by only two pharmaceutical giants: GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer. The two companies have made more than US$19 billion in sales off of the vaccine since its launch, yet still charge developing countries unaffordable and unsustainable prices. It's important to point out that this vaccine was initially developed for children in wealthy countries, and its research and development costs have long been recovered.

On January 20, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) released the second edition of its vaccine pricing report, The Right Shot, which showed that in the poorest countries, the price to vaccinate a child is now a colossal 68 times more expensive than it was in 2001, with many parts of the world unable to afford new high-priced vaccines such as the one for pneumococcal disease. The pneumonia vaccine alone accounts for approximately 45 per cent of the full vaccination package price tag.

MSF supports the roll-out of new vaccines in developing countries, and is encouraged to see robust support to buy vaccines for these countries. But Canada should make sure that its taxpayer money is spent effectively, and is able to buy as many vaccines as possible. Canada should push pharmaceutical companies to further reduce the price of lifesaving vaccines, and a good place to start is by urging companies to make their research and production costs public.

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