Vaccine price cuts for poor countries

This Thursday, the two companies that make vaccines against cervical cancer, Merck and Glaxo Smith Kline, announced that they would lower the prices of their vaccines in poor countries to about $5 per dose. The news was received with enthusiasm by the World Health Organization, who called it " a great step forward for women and girls" since the vaccines protect against the strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause 70% of cervical cancers.

Initially, these vaccines will be distributed at low cost in Kenya, Ghana, Laos, Madagascar and other countries at $4.50 for Merck's Gardasil and $4.65 for Glaxo's Cevarix. However, these prices will not be offered in Latin America since there is a mix of poor and middle-income countries that do not fit the category.

The low prices were negotiated through the GAVI Alliance, created in 1999 with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gats Foundation with the purpose of delivering more vaccines to the world's poorest countries. This is why there is controversy from some agencies who think that Merck and Glaxo are "making profits off the backs of the poorest countries" by selling a product that was partially developed with taxpayers money from the NIH and distributed by a charitable organization. Although these prices are expected to decrease as more units are distributed and competition from other countries like China and India, the question remains:

Who determines how vaccines and other drugs are priced in cases like these when the ultimate purpose should be to help the needy?


Original article by Donald G. McNeil


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