Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Delay in the pneumonia vaccine deal

Earlier this year, Glaxo Smith Kline and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations announced an agreement to bring pneumonia vaccine to the underdeveloped world. The GAVI was to buy the pneumonia vaccine from Glaxo at a reduced cost. The vaccine is easily available in the developed world, but is next to impossible to obtain elsewhere.

What was not announced however, was a year long delay in getting the vaccine to the children. The World Health Organization has not given it's blessing to the project. The WHO has asked for a trial run of the vaccinations to take place in Kenya, before going to the rest of the world.

From the Guardian's Global Health blog, Sarah Boseley explains why the WHO wants the delay.

You might have thought the life-saving vaccine would even now be on its way to most of Africa. Not so. There is a hitch. GSK is not selling the one-dose vaccine it markets in Europe to the developing world, but a two-dose version. The World Health Organisation, which has to approve the vaccine through what is called "pre-qualification", told GSK that it could not give the green light immediately because two-dose vaccines usually require preservatives, and this one does not have them. WHO approved it, but only for Kenya, where GSK must collect two six-months sets of data to prove there is no problem in its correct use by health workers.

While a GSK spokesman told me they supported the idea of a trial to ensure the vaccine was properly used in an African setting, this surely means no African child outside Kenya will be protected by the GSK vaccine before 2012 (the Pfizer vaccine has not yet gone through the pre-qualification process).

It matters not just because GSK won a lot of headlines without mentioning the delay, but because there are those who think there are ways of getting these desperately-needed, life-saving vaccines to small children faster. Medecins sans Frontieres and Oxfam have today produced a report, called Giving Developing Countries the Best Shot, which suggests that the reliance of donors on the giant multinational pharma companies may be misplaced. Their products cost too much and it takes too long to get them to those who need them.

The pneumococcal vaccine will cost $21 a child, say the two organisations, which they describe as "an unacceptably high price for donors and developing countries to bear." Yet we are talking about a vaccine that has been used for a number of years in wealthy countries, which has generated billions of dollars for the pharmaceutical companies.

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