Pfizer sells key vaccine cheaply to poor countries

by Linda A. Johnson

Drugmaker Pfizer Inc. has agreed to provide hundreds of millions of doses of its lucrative vaccine against pneumonia and meningitis at a fraction of the usual price for young children in poor countries.

The deal to provide 260 million shots of its Prevnar 13 vaccine for a few dollars each is Pfizer's third agreement under an innovative program through which , governments, health groups and charities collaborate to bring a long-term supply of affordable vaccines against .

Prevnar 13, called Prevenar outside the U.S., protects against 13 strains of pneumococcal disease. The can cause painful common in young children and serious infections that can kill or leave survivors deaf, paralyzed or with permanent learning or speech disabilities. Those diseases include pneumonia, and , an infection of tissue around the brain and spinal cord.

Pneumococcal disease kills more than 1.6 million people annually, half under age 5 and nearly all of them in poor countries, according to the World Health Organization.

One Prevnar dose costs nearly $130 in the U.S.—unaffordable in much of Africa, Asia and Latin America. In fact, most new Western vaccines don't reach poor countries for 10 to 15 years.

To change that, four years ago several countries and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation together donated $1.5 billion to develop a tactic that could provide the needed vaccines. An additional $1.3 billion was pledged by a public-private partnership called GAVI, formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, whose members include UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank.

The money was used to start a pilot program that would guarantee steady, high-volume demand for vaccine makers who agree to sell their vaccines for $3.50 each or less to poor countries. Experts picked pneumococcal vaccines as the first project.

The program also aims to increase vaccine production capacity and encourage companies to develop vaccines for diseases common in the poorest countries. Existing vaccines such as Prevnar must be tweaked to cover disease strains common in poor countries.

Prevnar was launched in Western countries in 2009. Pfizer made the first supply agreement for it under the program in 2010, and a second one in 2011. Those deals, running through 2023, covered 480 million doses.

The alliance has estimated the pneumococcal vaccines could save up to 1.5 million lives by 2020.

"More than 10 million children have been reached with GAVI-supported pneumococcal vaccines in 29 countries since 2010. We expect to reach children in more than 50 countries with this lifesaving vaccine by 2015," Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Alliance, said in a statement, adding that the goal is to make the program sustainable in the long term, partly by securing very low vaccine prices.

The latest deal gives Pfizer $3.40 a dose for Prevnar this year, then $3.30 per dose through 2025. For about the first 20 percent of doses, Pfizer gets an extra $3.50, from the $2.8 billion pledged by the charities and wealthy governments.

"Strong vaccination programs are a cornerstone of economic development—a simple intervention that has dramatic short- and long-term impact on health," Susan Silbermann, Pfizer's president of vaccines, said in a statement.

New York-based Pfizer is the world's second-biggest drugmaker, selling medicines including Viagra and pain relievers Lyrica and Celebrex. Prevnar is the top-selling vaccine ever, with annual sales just over $4 billion.

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

India announces low-cost rotavirus vaccine (Update)

May 14, 2013

The Indian government announced Tuesday the development of a new low-cost vaccine proven effective against a diarrhea-causing virus that is one of the leading causes of childhood deaths across the developing world.

Wyeth seeking approval for advanced infant vaccine

Mar 31, 2009

(AP) -- Drugmaker Wyeth on Tuesday sought U.S. approval to sell a new version of its blockbuster infant vaccine Prevnar that protects against more strains of a bacteria that causes pneumonia and other diseases.

Recommended for you

Drug research and development more efficient than expected

Feb 27, 2015

Drug R&D costs have increased substantially in recent decades, while the number of new drugs has remained fairly constant, leading to concerns about the sustainability of drug R&D and question about the factors that could ...

Use new meningitis vaccines only for outbreaks

Feb 26, 2015

(AP)—A U.S. panel on Thursday recommended that two new meningitis vaccines only be used for rare outbreaks, resisting tearful pleas to give it routinely to teens and college students.

New antibiotic avycaz approved

Feb 26, 2015

(HealthDay)—The combination antibiotic Avycaz (ceftazidime-avibactam) has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat adults with complicated infections of the intra-abdominal area or urinary tract, ...

Tagging drugs to fight counterfeit medicines

Feb 25, 2015

The U.S. and other countries are enacting rules to clamp down on the sales of fake pharmaceuticals, which pose a public health threat. But figuring out a system to track and authenticate legitimate drugs still faces significant ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.