Citing pneumonia as the single largest global killer of children younger than 5 — specifically among children living under severe crises conditions such as in refugee camps — Doctors Without Borders issued a statement denouncing punishing prices that governments and humanitarian organizations are forced to pay for vaccines to save the lives of vulnerable children.
Through June and July, in camps and settlements of mostly Middle-Eastern and African refugees that have sprung up in south and central Greece, Doctors Without Borders has been conducting vaccination campaigns to protect more than nearly 5,000 children younger than age 15 against 10 diseases, including pneumonia.
The volunteer group said that for more than six years it has called on the pneumonia vaccine’s only two producers, giant pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), to lower the price paid by governments and humanitarian organizations during extreme emergency situations to protect children in crisis from pathogens that cause severe pneumonia.
“Governments and humanitarian organizations need tools to protect children living through one of the biggest crises of our times,” said Dr. Apostolos Veizis, director of Doctors Without Borders’ Medical Operational Support Unit in Greece in the statement . “Pfizer and GSK must drop the price of the pneumonia vaccine.”
Doctors Without Borders (original French: Médecins Sans Frontières) is an international humanitarian organization of physicians and other medical professionals who volunteer emergency medical care to millions of people in crises throughout 60 countries worldwide. They also help people who face discrimination or neglect from their local health systems or who are excluded from receiving healthcare. Every day, more than 30,000 Doctors Without Borders volunteers help in the field.
In May, Doctors Without Borders vaccinated nearly 3,000 children in Idomeni, bordered by Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), then moved conducted immunizations in camps in the Attica region of central Greece, on the island of Samos, and in Athens. In coming weeks the organization, in collaboration with the Greek Ministry of Health, will vaccinate children in camps at Epirus, and on the Island of Lesbos.
Doctors Without Borders say they paid 60 euros (about U.S. $67) per dose for the pneumonia vaccine for refugee children, purchasing it through local pharmacies. The cost was about 20 times higher than the lowest global price of roughly 2.80 euros (U.S. $3.10) per dose.
Members of the group said they and other humanitarian organizations are unable to buy pneumonia vaccines at the lowest price because those prices are only available to the world’s poorest countries through the international organization Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Gavi brings together public and private sectors to create equal access to new and underused vaccines for poor countries.
Three doses of the pneumonia vaccine are needed to provide full protection for each child. Another expensive vaccine used by Doctors Without Borders in the most recent campaign can protect children from six diseases but costs 65 euros (about U.S. $72) per dose.
In May, Doctors Without Borders delivered a petition signed by 416,000 people from 170 countries to Pfizer and GSK asking the pharma giants to reduce the price of the pneumonia vaccine to $5 U.S. dollars per child (for all three dose), in crisis areas and all developing countries. So far, both pharmaceutical corporations have refused to reduce the cost and there is no solution in sight.
“With the collapse of the healthcare systems in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, most children living in the camps and outside have not been immunized in their country or during the journey,”Apostolos Veizis said. “These kids are living in horrendous conditions and should not pay the price of fleeing for their lives with their health. We have to protect them at all cost against pneumonia and other deadly diseases.”