First alternative pneumonia vaccine breaks pharma giants’ stranglehold, promising protection for more children against biggest childhood killer

A third pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) manufactured by the Serum Institute of India has this week been quality assured by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This vaccine protects children against certain types of pneumonia and will be much more affordable than existing vaccines.

This critical step will enable countries and treatment providers to procure more affordable versions of the vaccine, which has long been out of reach for millions of children because of the high prices of the existing vaccines produced by Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided some pioneering support for the development of the vaccine.

"This is a monumental day for kids around the world and the governments that are trying to protect them from life-threatening pneumonia. A more affordable pneumonia vaccine is a gamechanger in protecting more children against the world’s number one childhood killer,” says Kate Elder, Senior Vaccines Policy Advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign.

For nearly 20 years[1], pharmaceutical corporations Pfizer and GSK have maintained a duopoly on the vaccine that has allowed them to keep prices high. Pfizer and GSK charge Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – a donor-funded organisation that helps the poorest countries access vaccines – roughly US$9 for each child to be vaccinated in the poorest countries, and as much as $80 per child for middle-income countries that don’t qualify for Gavi support.

There is little transparency on the prices charged by Pfizer and GSK, as the corporations take great lengths to keep prices secret. The result of these high prices is that governments cannot afford the vaccine, and children are left unprotected against deadly diseases like pneumonia.

Pfizer and GSK have earned over $50 billion in sales of the pneumococcal vaccine in the past ten years, with Pfizer winning the lion’s share of these revenues. Today, 55 million children around the world still do not have access to the pneumonia vaccine, largely due to high prices.

The Serum Institute of India has stated previously that they plan to sell the vaccine at about $6 per child to Gavi and to the poorest countries, and for no more than about $11 in middle-income countries, significantly less than Pfizer and GSK’s products.

“MSF has been calling for a more affordable pneumonia vaccine for years, asking that it be priced at no more than $5 per child. This new and more affordable vaccine from an Indian manufacturer will finally break the longstanding stranglehold by pharmaceutical corporations Pfizer and GSK, meaning that the more than 55 million kids around the world that have been left out largely due to corporate greed can finally have a fair shot at being protected,” says Elder.

“Many of these children reside in countries deemed ‘middle-income’, who cannot benefit from special prices negotiated by Gavi.”

“To save as many lives as possible, we call on WHO, UNICEF and Gavi to step-up and help governments access this more affordable vaccine as rapidly as possible. We also expect the Serum Institute of India to extend the lowest global price for its new pneumonia vaccine to all humanitarian organisations.”

Governments that wish to purchase this new more affordable vaccine should consider using the WHO Collaborative Registration Procedure to accelerate its registration.



Notes to editor

[1] Wyeth’s pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) 7-valent was licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2000. Pfizer purchased Wyeth in 2009; and in 2010 the US FDA approved Pfizer’s PCV13, which replaced PCV7. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)’s PCV10 was approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in 2009.

WHO’s prequalification information:

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