By Daniel Berman, of Médecins Sans Frontières MSF (Doctors Without Borders) who worked in the drug industry.
It is amazing the GAVI conference has been a success. The number of kids being vaccinated will dramatically increase.
And it is equally amazing that in the current climate the UK Government made this commitment. But I’m worried how the cash will be spent.
At Medecins Sans Frontieres, we know the importance of immunisation. Our doctors and nurses vaccinate around 10 million children a year in the developing world.
But cash donated by governments means cash donated by taxpayers, and therefore it is right to ask if they are getting value for money.
There was already acclaim for yesterday’s conference after Glaxo-SmithKline announced it will sell its £8 a dose rotavirus vaccine for less than £3 a dose to low-income countries through GAVI.
But is this the best price?
A new reality is emerging in vaccine development and production. Manufacturers in India match the quality standards of the big Western pharmaceutical companies and sell their vaccines at a fraction of the price.
In March this year, the Chinese regulatory authority was validated by the World Health Organization. This means low-cost, quality vaccines produced in China can now be approved for purchase by UNICEF, GAVI and others to serve the global marketplace.
Msf buys HIV medicines from Indian manufacturers at significantly lower prices than the big firms. Recent price disclosures by GSK and the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, Crucell, show they sell some vaccines at profits of up to 180%.
Gsk and Pfizer are selling the vaccine to GAVI through a scheme called the Advance Market Commitment. This is a £900million subsidy scheme, a pot of money at the World Bank. Why should GAVI need to give a huge subsidy when the two companies making the vaccine are Pfizer and GSK? They do not need the money.
Andrew Witty, GSK’s chief executive, calls this an “innovative financing mechanism”. We would describe it as corporate welfare that is scandalously expensive.