WHO seeks new mechanism for crisis vaccine supplies at low cost
By Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent
LONDON Oct 19 (Reuters) - The World Health Organization, drugmakers and humanitarian groups are hammering out details of a new vaccine supply system aimed at getting vital shots to vulnerable people in crises such as wars or natural disasters.
The mechanism, which so far has British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline signed up to provide its pneumonia vaccine at the lowest possible price, will ask other major pharmaceutical firms including Pfizer and Merck to make similar cut-price agreements for emergencies only.
"The idea is that this will set a model in place for other manufacturers to put their vaccines on the table," said Greg Elder, a medical coordinator with the international charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) which joined talks on the issue at the WHO's Geneva headquarters last week.
A spokesman for the WHO said the humanitarian vaccine mechanism - which would only be used in crisis situations - could mean reaching millions of vulnerable people with protective shots against potential killers such as measles, yellow fever and pneumonia.
For now, GSK has pledged to make its PCV-10 vaccine for pneumococcal infection available at its lowest possible price, he said, and other manufacturers are considering which of their shots might also be included.
Signing up would mean drugmakers agreeing to supply the shots at a price equivalent to that paid by the United Nations children's fund UNICEF for vaccines supplied under the GAVI Vaccines Alliance to low and middle-income countries who can't afford to pay full price.
Yet unlike GAVI, the cheaper emergency vaccines would be accessible only to non-governmental organisations such as MSF and other charities and humanitarian groups - not to health ministries or national authorities.
This, said MSF's Elder, will ensure drugmakers are not exposed to having to supply large quantities of vaccines at rock-bottom prices that could dent their profits. Continued...