This week, at the United Nations General Assembly, GSK announced that it would make its pneumococcal vaccine available to civil society organisations (CSOs) at its lowest price for use in immunisation programmes for refugees and internally displaced populations (IDPs). The pneumococcal vaccine can help protect children against pneumonia, a major cause of death in children under five. CSOs will now be able to access the vaccine for US$3.05 per dose, equivalent to the price offered to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. This will allow CSOs operating in humanitarian contexts to step in where governments are unable to respond, without high vaccine prices being a barrier. GSK has indicated that they hope to expand this commitment to other essential vaccines in the future.
Reducing vaccine price barriers in humanitarian contexts
Save the Children welcomes this announcement, which is a critical step to helping to make immunisation available for some of the most excluded children – those affected by conflict. Two-thirds of unimmunised children globally live in conflict-affected countries – in South Sudan, for example, 69% of children are not immunised. When crises occur, immunisation coverage often plummets. In Syria, coverage dropped by nearly 50% following the onset of conflict, from 80% in 2010 to 41% in 2015. But it is important that such a pledge is for all children in all humanitarian contexts, and should be extended beyond refugees and IDPs.
Conflict and other humanitarian emergencies can strain weak health systems – or destroy systems that used to function well – and undermine the delivery of essential health services, including immunisation. Insecurity and displacement can also inhibit services from reaching all children. CSOs often have to step in where governments cannot or will not fulfil their responsibilities, especially, but not only, for refugee and IDPs. Vaccination can help protect children from infectious diseases and can help reduce disease outbreaks in the population. While security risks already pose a significant barrier to delivering immunisation services in these contexts, restrictive pricing should absolutely not. This is why such commitments from manufacturers are so vital.
Continued calls for change
Alongside other CSOs – eg, MSF has been a powerful voice advocating for this through its A Fair Shot Campaign – Save the Children has been calling for pharmaceutical companies to make vaccines affordable for governments. As part of this call, we have pushed manufacturers to charge the lowest global vaccine prices to CSOs delivering immunisation in humanitarian contexts. Through our five-year partnership with GSK, we have been making the case directly to the company, pushing for dialogue with them about their pricing policy.
This new announcement is therefore very welcome. We also approve the intention to extend this to other vaccines in the future – GSK makes a number of vaccines and we look forward to further commitments to make those available too at the lowest price. However, vaccine prices must come down not only for CSOs operating in humanitarian situations but also for governments in general – affordable vaccines are critical for reaching every last child. We urge other companies to follow GSK’s lead.
Turning commitment into action for Every Last Child
Quickly turning this commitment into action is now of upmost importance: far too many children’s well-being and lives hang in the balance. We encourage GSK to work through existing mechanisms and with partners, including CSOs, on definitions and specifics of rollout, in line with WHO’s framework for vaccination in acute humanitarian emergencies.
We look forward to discussing the details of implementation, with GSK and other partners, to ensure it truly responds to the needs of every last child, in all humanitarian contexts. We’ll make the case for a broader commitment that extends beyond refugees and IDPs. A commitment to affordable vaccines is vital for all children in humanitarian situations, including those in areas of a country where government services are not available – ie, where governments cannot or will not fulfil their responsibilities to deliver to the whole population – and where CSOs have to step in.