The what, why and how of health and development

MSF call for GAVI Alliance to provide vaccines at affordable prices to organisations working on the ground

Many attendees at the three day Gavi Alliance partner forum on immunisation held this week in Tanzania will have been celebrating – and rightly too. As well as the one hundredth millionth person receiving a revolutionary meningitis vaccine, new immunisations against pneumonia and a deadly form of diarrhoea launched in Tanzania this week plus new targets to immunise 30 million girls with the HPV vaccine were announced.

But as the international health community focus their attention on the forum, one organisation have used this opportunity to highlight a problem surrounding the prices of vaccination that they believe GAVI Alliance aren’t doing enough to address.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), whose work often brings the organisation close to children in need of vaccinations, have called this week for the Alliance to do more to ensure that the prices it obtains for vaccinations are made available to organisations working on the ground.

The GAVI Alliance, a partnership between WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank, and many civil society organisations, broker deals with pharmaceutical companies to obtain vaccines at a lower cost. They then provide these vaccinations to Ministries of Health, who administer them, also often providing supplies to NGOs and other organisations working in their countries.

“The challenge comes when we vaccinate older age groups – older than 11 months – or key populations such as refugees,” says Kate Elder, Vaccine Policy Advisor for MSF.

Many countries only vaccinate children up to 11 months but in reality there are many children over this age who are not fully vaccinated and need immunisation against deadly diseases. It is at this point Ministries usually request humanitarian actors such as MSF to step in and help ‘catch up’ the rest of the population. But because they don’t have adequate vaccine stock to supply organisations such as MSF, Ministries ask them to purchase it themselves.

This means MSF have to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies, which takes time and resources. This is critical for an organisation that needs to act quickly to provide vaccinations when the opportunities arise to reach some of the estimated 22.4 million babies who are not fully vaccinated.

“MSF is ready to pay for these vaccines,” says Elder. “But it should be at the same price that GAVI has negotiated as we are trying to vaccinate the same children – those that have not been reached by vaccination services.”

How the GAVI Alliance would ensure vaccines can be accessed at the same price as those they obtain has no clear answer yet but it is something MSF say they have to start thinking about now.

As Dr. Manica Balasegaram, Executive Director of MSF’s Access Campaign said: “It’s time for GAVI to wake up and recognise that other actors vaccinating on the ground need fast and regular access to life-saving vaccines at the lowest-possible prices.”

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