Geneva, 4 March 2021 – Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) welcomes pharmaceutical corporation GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) announcement today of an agreement to supply rotavirus vaccine to the ‘Humanitarian Mechanism’.
The ‘Humanitarian Mechanism’ was jointly launched by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, MSF and Save the Children in May 2017. It aims to facilitate timely access to affordable vaccines for entities such as civil society organisations, governments or UN agencies procuring on behalf of populations facing humanitarian emergencies. The vaccines currently offered through the ‘Humanitarian Mechanism’, however, are limited to use by civil society organisations and UN agencies and does not include use by governments responding to emergencies.
The rotavirus vaccine is only the second vaccine to be committed to the mechanism. Prior to today’s announcement, pneumonia vaccine was the only vaccine pledged to the mechanism by corporations Pfizer and GSK. The ‘Humanitarian Mechanism’ has so far facilitated access to over 1 million doses of the pneumonia vaccine for people caught in humanitarian emergencies in 12 countries, over 63% of which were accessed by MSF for vaccination interventions in Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Greece, Nigeria, Niger, South Sudan, and Syria.
Rotavirus infection is the leading cause of severe diarrhoea in children under five years of age globally and is responsible for up to 200,000 deaths per year. Children in refugee or internally displaced people (IDP) camps are among the most vulnerable in the world to such infections.
Due to the high price and lack of availability of the rotavirus vaccine, many children have been left unprotected against rotavirus infection. In 2019, only 39% of children globally under the age of one had been immunised against rotavirus infection. Gavi, a donor-funded organisation that helps the poorest countries access newer vaccines, was the only entity that was able to access GSK’s rotavirus vaccine at a special reduced price of $1.88. But this left children in many countries—including those in refugee camps across the globe—without access to the vaccine, and organisations like MSF were not able to buy it at this special price to protect children in need.
Quote by Miriam Alia, Vaccination & Outbreak Response Referent, MSF
“Having witnessed too many children caught in emergencies die from diarrhoea caused by rotavirus infection, MSF is thrilled to see that the rotavirus vaccine has finally been pledged to the ‘Humanitarian Mechanism’. For too long, the high price and unavailability of the rotavirus vaccine has meant that many children around the globe each year were left unprotected against this childhood killer that can be easily prevented with a vaccine.
Vaccination is critical for children in crisis settings since they are among the world’s most vulnerable to infections and yet often lack access to essential health services. The addition of the rotavirus vaccine to the ‘Humanitarian Mechanism’ is a huge step forward because it means that we will be able to vaccinate kids in crisis against rotavirus, but it’s only the second vaccine to be made available through the mechanism. We need more commitments from other rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccine manufacturers, and we need to see additional vaccines, including typhoid fever and human papillomavirus vaccines, being pledged by manufacturers. And finally we need governments hosting children in crisis to be able to access these special prices, too, so that the mechanism can reach its full potential and many more lives can be saved.”