Biotech and Pharma

Cost of vaccines is becoming unaffordable in poor countries

A child receives a vaccine in a makeshift field clinic of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) organisation during a vaccination program against measles in Bangui, Central African Republic.
Miguel Medina | AFP | Getty Images

Pharmaceutical companies are overcharging for vaccines, driving costs so prohibitively high and threatening international vaccination programs, according to a report from international aid organization Doctors Without Borders (Medicins Sans Frontieres).

The cost of vaccinating a child against a portfolio of serious diseases—measles, whooping cough, tuberculosis and others—was less than 70 cents in 2001. The cost of the program was $45 in 2014, according to an article on the report by the BBC. One reason is that new vaccines have been added to the program: the pneumococcal vaccine alone accounts for almost 50 percent of the current total price. Pneumococcal disease kills one million children a year.

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But Doctors Without Borders staffers say the main problem is that pharmaceutical companies are charging needlessly high prices, and that the vaccine industry is too secretive about pricing information. In some extreme cases, developing countries such as Morocco and Tunisia are paying more for the pneumococcal vaccine than far wealthier France does. MSF wants Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline to reduce the price of the pneumococcal vaccine to $5, about $1 less than a version that Indian drugmaker Serum Institute plans to release next year.

Pfizer said in a statement that the cost of its vaccines reflects what it costs to develop them, and GlaxoSmithKline said it sells its vaccines to poorer countries at a "substantial discount" off its price in wealthier ones.

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