Rising vaccine prices mean fewer children immunized

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Adding more children's vaccines to the recommended package should--in theory--save more lives. But rising prices may actually mean fewer children are vaccinated.

Over the past 10 years, the cost countries pay to buy the main recommended vaccines for a child grew a whopping 2,666%, from less than $1.50 to nearly $40, according to a Médecins Sans Frontières report. That's 26 times the cost. Rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines make up 74% of the total cost to vaccinate a child. Most families in developing countries cannot afford those prices without financial support.

The GAVI Alliance has committed more than $7.9 billion to immunization programs in developing countries, the report says, but once a country's per capita income crosses the $1,520 threshold, they can no longer receive support. The money disappears along with GAVI-negotiated prices for newer vaccines. Let's put that in perspective: Honduras will lose GAVI financing in 2015. In 2011, the country paid $1.43 for PCV and rotavirus vaccines. In 2015, Honduras will pay $15.50 for those same two shots--a more than 1,000% increase.

The cold chain, too, adds costs because of the necessary logistical resources to store vaccines at proper temperatures.

Lower-cost competition will likely prove the savior in this situation. More and more suppliers that can undercut the prices of giant vaccinemakers are receiving World Health Organization quality approval to supply international bodies with vaccines. India's national regulatory authority and affiliated institutions met those prescribed international standards late last year. Labor and manufacturing costs, which account for about 60% of the price of vaccine production, are significantly lower in India than in Europe or the United States. This means Indian companies can make and sell vaccines on the cheap.  

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Crucell dropped the price of their pentavalent vaccines by 15% when more affordable products from several Indian companies hit the market, the report says. And GSK makes available to GAVI a three-dose pneumococcal vaccine course at $7 a dose, or $21 for the full regimen. A competitor says it can supply the whole regimen for $6 total. That sort of competition should have big vaccinemakers reconsidering their prices.

- read the MSF report

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