Vaccine Charity Exceeds Funding Goal Amid Criticism of Big Pharma Ties

A global vaccine charity will be able to carry out all of its immunization plans through 2015, thanks to major donations from the United Kingdom, Norway and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,  but not without criticism that the group is too cozy with drug companies.

The GAVI Alliance, also known as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, raised $4.3 billion at a fundraising conference Monday, exceeding the $3.7 billion it needed to close a budget gap that jeopardized its ability to deliver vaccines to the world’s poorest countries.

But as the Wall Street Journal reports, GAVI has recently been criticized for not pushing drug companies harder for lower prices. Relief groups, such as Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam, have accused GAVI of being too friendly with drug companies, two of which have representatives on the charity’s 27-person board.

Particularly irksome to the relief agencies is a funding scheme, sponsored by GAVI, under which two multinational drug makers, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, have agreed to sell 30 million doses annually for 10 years in exchange for $10.50 per child immunized, plus a subsidy of $225 million to each company.

Drug makers in developing countries have said they could sell similar pneumococcal vaccines at $6 per child, according to Doctors Without Borders, more than 40 percent less than GAVI is paying before the subsidy.

Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, who heads the Doctors Without Borders Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, called the new funding “great news.”  But he called it “very disappointing that the prices agreed with two big pharma companies will be too high for countries to afford when donor support is not, or is no longer, available.”

GAVI says it needs to cooperate with drug companies to keep vaccine supplies flowing, and the drug companies say their prices are much lower than those charged in Western countries.

At a news conference Monday, Bill Gates said he feels “great about the prices we’ve got” from drug companies, the Journal reported, but added that he was eager to see new low-cost Indian and Chinese manufacturers accelerate their vaccine output.

U.K.-based GlaxoSmithKline is among the biggest recipients of GAVI funds, according to the Journal. The U.K.’s offer of $1.34 billion was Monday’s biggest pledge. The Gates foundation pledged $1 billion, Norway $677 million, and the United States promised $450 million.

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