Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Too Expensive

Meningitis C can cause severe brain damage and is fatal in 50% of cases if untreated. There were 12,000 cases of meningitis in Niger and Nigeria and 800 deaths in the first six months of the year but with cases rising since 2013, the fear is that next year’s meningitis season, which begins in January, could see a much larger number of cases.

A shortage of meningitis C vaccine is threatening to jeopardise the ability to cope with a potential outbreak of the disease in Africa, international public health organisations, including the World Health Organisation, have warned. The International Coordinating Group for Vaccine Provision for Epidemic Meningitis Control, which also comprises the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) are appealing to pharmaceutical companies to help them by plugging the gap. They say pharmaceutical companies have told them they are unable to supply the newer, more effective conjugate vaccines, which provide longer lasting immunisation than the old polysaccharide vaccines.

“What we have told the manufacturers is we want the conjugate vaccine to be able to prevent epidemics for longer periods but they will not produce the vaccine in enough quantities at affordable prices,” explained Dr William Perea, coordinator of the control of epidemic diseases unit at WHO. “Either they help us have affordable conjugate vaccines or we’ll have to use an old vaccine that doesn’t provide us with the same quality,” said Perea.

MSF’s international medical coordinator, Dr Myriam Henkens, emphasised the importance of a multivalent vaccine – one that covers different strains of the disease: “We need vaccine manufacturers to plan production of a multivalent vaccine now to allow sufficient lead time and capacity to meet this demand.”

As well as the extra protection afforded by the conjugate vaccines, they are also suitable for children, unlike the polysaccharide version. However, according to WHO figures, they generally cost at least 10 times more than polysaccharide vaccines, which are priced at around $4 to $5. Even with the manufacturers offering the conjugate vaccines at $25 a dose, for the five million doses required that amounts to $125m as opposed to $25m for the polysaccharide vaccines.

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