TRENTON, N.J. -- Drugmaker Pfizer Inc. has agreed to provide hundreds of millions of doses of its lucrative vaccine against pneumonia and meningitis at a fraction of the usual price for young children in poor countries.
The deal to provide 260 million shots of its Prevnar 13 vaccine for a few dollars each is Pfizer's third agreement under an innovative program through which pharmaceutical companies, governments, health groups and charities collaborate to bring poor countries a long-term supply of affordable vaccines against deadly diseases.
Prevnar 13, called Prevenar outside the U.S., protects against 13 strains of pneumococcal disease. The bacterial disease can cause painful ear infections common in young children and serious infections that can kill or leave survivors deaf, paralyzed or with permanent learning or speech disabilities. Those diseases include pneumonia, bloodstream infections and meningitis, an infection of tissue around the brain and spinal cord.
Pneumococcal disease kills more than 1.6 million people annually, half under age 5 and nearly all of them in poor countries, according to the World Health Organization.
One Prevnar dose costs nearly $130 in the U.S. - unaffordable in much of Africa, Asia and Latin America. In fact, most new Western vaccines don't reach poor countries for 10 to 15 years.
To change that, four years ago several countries and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation together donated $1.5 billion to develop a tactic that could provide the needed vaccines. An additional $1.3 billion was pledged by a public-private partnership called the GAVI Alliance, formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, whose members include UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank.
The money was used to start a pilot program that would guarantee steady, high-volume demand for vaccine makers who agree to sell their vaccines for $3.50 each or less to poor countries. Experts picked pneumococcal vaccines as the first project.