High price of vaccine blocks immunising more refugee children against pneumonia

An MSF health worker immunises a refugee child in Greece. (Photo: Rocco Rorandelli/TerraProject)

An MSF health worker immunises a refugee child in Greece. (Photo: Rocco Rorandelli/TerraProject)

Pneumonia is the world’s biggest childhood killer — one million children succumb to it each year —and it is particularly acute for children living in regions afflicted by crises.

Thousands of refugees and migrants — from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Syria and elsewhere — are bottlenecked in Greece, largely due to Macedonia’s border closure in March, following an agreement between the European Union and Turkey to send many of those fleeing war and economic devastation back to Turkey.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), an international medical humanitarian organisation, has been assisting refugees in several camps and settlements across Greece. During August MSF teams vaccinated 3 000 refugee children living in these camps against pneumonia.

But the price of this vaccine is too high, keeping it out reach of the most vulnerable. In Greece, MSF paid more than 20 times the lowest global price of pneumonia vaccines (€60 — the equivalent of R957 per dose) to immunise children, because the only two manufacturers of pneumonia vaccines, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) refuse to reduce the vaccine’s price.

Children left vulnerable

“Millions of babies and young kids worldwide are left unprotected against pneumonia, because Pfizer and GSK charge such high prices for the pneumonia vaccine that many governments and humanitarian organisations can’t afford to vaccinate children,” said Dr Greg Elder, medical co-ordinator at MSF’s Access Campaign. “After combined sales of over $30-billion for the pneumonia vaccine alone,it’s pretty safe to say that Pfizer and GSK can afford to lower the priceso all developing countries can protect their children from this childhood killer.”

With such inflated prices of the pneumonia vaccine, MSF and other humanitarian organisations have struggled to protect highly vulnerable populations from pneumonia. “With the healthcare systems in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan collapsing, most children living in and outside the camps have not been immunised in their country of origin, or during the journey,” said Dr Apostolos Veizis, director of MSF’s medical operational unit in Greece.

“These kids live in horrendous conditions and should not pay the price of fleeing for their lives with their health. We have to protect them at all costs against pneumonia and other deadly diseases. Governments and humanitarian organisations need tools to protect children living through one of the biggest crises of our times.”

Dropping the pneumonia vaccine price

MSF has called on Pfizer and GSK to drop the pneumonia vaccine price to U$5 per child for the required three doses for all developing nations and humanitarian organisations.

South Africa also pays too much for the pneumonia vaccine. The GSK vaccine is priced at R231 in the public sector, making it one of the most expensive vaccines in use.

After six years of fruitless negotiations with Pfizer and GSK asking them to drop their price to protect crisis-affected children from pneumonia, MSF in 2015 finally asked the public to help add pressure upon these pharmaceutical corporations.

MSF launched a global public action and petition campaign called A Fair Shot in which the public was asked to add their signatures if they thought these companies should drop their prices to $5 per child (for all three doses) for crises-affected populations, and for all developing countries. Over 400 000 people from 170 countries have signed the petition to date.

You can sign the petition at www.afairshot.org