Doctors Without Borders Turns Down Donation of One Million Vaccines

Doctors Without Borders Turns Down Donation of One Million Vaccines

The health organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) turned down a donation of one million Pneumonia Vaccines (specifically the PCV13 vaccine) from Pfizer in early October 2016 [1]. While this move seems illogical, especially for an organization such as MSF that strives to provide medical care to those in need around the globe, it was a calculated stand against the high prices that pharmaceutical companies charge [2]. In a detailed opinion article titled “There is No Such Thing as ‘Free’ Vaccines”, Jason Cone, Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders in the United States, describes the long-term struggle with these companies to provide low-cost medicines.

Cone describes how these donations come with “numerous conditions and strings attached, including restrictions on which patient populations and which geographic areas” will benefit from these vaccines. On a more economical note, he describes how donations “remove incentives for new manufacturers to enter [the] market.” This decision was made despite the fact that the vaccine in question is highly effective against a “commonly lethal” and notably preventable, pneumonia [3].

According to MSF, Morocco pays $63.70 for PCV13, Tunisia pays $67.30, France pays $58.40 (quite ironically – France’s GDP per capita is approximately ten times that of Morocco or Tunisia, yet it pays less for this vaccine), while the US pays about $136 [4][5][6]. According to Kate Elder, the Vaccines Policy Advisor at MSF, in an interview with The Atlantic, “the [pharmaceutical] companies really operate on opacity of price data”: by obscuring the price one country will pay in comparison to another country, these companies can charge different amounts [7].

While Doctors Without Borders may have sacrificed this small donation, they did so with the intention of more equitable future pharmaceutical deals.

 

References:

[1] “There Is No Such Thing as ‘Free’ Vaccines: Why We Rejected Pfizer’s Donation Offer of Pneumonia Vaccines,” MSF USA, October 12, 2016, http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/article/there-no-such-thing-%E2%80%9Cfree%E2%80%9D-vaccines-why-we-rejected-pfizer%E2%80%99s-donation-offer-pneumonia.

[2] Ibid.

[3] James Hamblin, “Why Doctors Without Borders Refused a Million Free Vaccines,” The Atlantic, October 14, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/10/doctors-with-borders/503786/.

[4] “GDP per Capita (Current US$) | Data,” accessed February 12, 2017, http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD?locations=MA-TN-FR.

[5] “MSF Calls on GSK and Pfizer to Slash Pneumo Vaccine Price to $5 per Child for Poor Countries ahead of Donor Meeting,” accessed February 10, 2017, http://www.msfaccess.org/about-us/media-room/press-releases/msf-calls-gsk-and-pfizer-slash-pneumo-vaccine-price-5-child-poor.

[6] Hamblin, “Why Doctors Without Borders Refused a Million Free Vaccines.”

[7] Ibid.

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