October 17, 2016 1:04 pm
Updated: October 17, 2016 3:56 pm

Doctors Without Borders turns down 1 million free pneumonia vaccines, takes stand against Pfizer

WATCH: The organization says it opposes Pfizer's high pricing of the medicine.

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Doctors Without Borders has refused to accept a donation of one million pneumonia vaccines from Pfizer because they oppose the pharma giant’s pricing of the life-saving medicine.

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“This is not a decision that we took lightly, since our medical teams working in the field witness the impact of pneumonia every day,” executive director Jason Cone wrote in an op ed on the international aid organization’s site.

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The issue, according to Cone, is the high cost of vaccinations provided by giants like Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), who are the sole producers of the vaccines.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), pneumonia killed almost one million children in 2015 and accounts for 15 per cent of all deaths of children under five years old.

Vaccinations can prevent these deaths, but there has been a call for Pfizer and GSK to lower the cost in order to make it more affordable for other aid associations and developing countries.

Activists line up to put flowers in crib in front of Pfizer world headquarters in New York, Wednesday, April 27, 2016. The crib filled with flowers, organized by Doctors Without Borders, was delivered to Pfizer with a petition demanding that the pharmaceutical company lower the cost of the pneumonia vaccine.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

“Donations can also undermine long-term efforts to increase access to affordable vaccines and medicines. They remove incentives for new manufacturers to enter a market when it’s absorbed through a donation arrangement,” Cone said. “We need competition from new companies to bring down prices overall  —  something we don’t have currently for the pneumonia vaccine.”

“Donations of medical products, such as vaccines and drugs, may appear to be good ‘quick fixes,’ but they are not the answer to increasingly high vaccine prices charged by pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer and GSK.”

Another concern Cone addresses are the restrictions that often accompany such donations. Often, he said, the donor will only give the vaccines to a certain population or only within a particular geographic area.

Though Doctors Without Borders — also known as Médecins sans Frontieres (MSF) — is refusing this donation, it has accepted donations in the past, Cone noted. In 2014, the organization accepted a one-time offer from both Pfizer and GSK after five years of failed price negotiations. Cone said that it was the “notable exception” and that both companies had agreed to work on lowering their prices.

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Last month GSK announced that it would lower the price of their vaccine for humanitarian organizations. And it was a notable drop: from USD$68.10 a dose (three doses are needed) to $3.05 per dose.

In response to the op ed, Pfizer sent a statement to Global News stating that it is “committed to making vaccines available to as many people as possible, particularly those needing emergency humanitarian assistance.”

It also said that it still offers the doses as well as ensuring that 100,000 are earmarked for immediate delivery.

“Pfizer strongly disagrees with MSF’s stated policy and believes product donations play a crucial role in addressing humanitarian crises around the world,” it continued.

Cone insists that vaccines shouldn’t be considered something only for the wealthier countries.

“We can no longer live in a world where a vaccine that protects children against pneumonia is a luxury; too many young lives are at stake,” Cone concluded in his op ed. “Pfizer should lower the price of its lifesaving pneumonia vaccine for humanitarian organizations and all developing countries to $5 per child. Only then, will we have a meaningful step towards saving children’s lives both today and in the future.”

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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