Unicef, for first time, reveals prices it pays for vaccines

Unicef has now done something unheard of. It has decided to reveal the prices it pays drug companies for vaccines.

According to recent articles, Unicef, is one of the world’s largest vaccine buyers, and it has for the first time published the prices it pays individual companies for immunizations. An article in The Wall Street Journal states, that this is “a step public health campaigners hope will boost competition and drive down prices for all vaccine buyers.”

Compared to many medical treatments, basic vaccines are relatively inexpensive, often costing $10 or less a dose. But the costs can add up when countries need to immunize their entire populations, making a savings of even a few cents per dose significant.

Last year alone, Unicef paid $747 million for vaccines, buying over two billion doses for 58 percent of the world’s children, in some of the world’s poorest countries. Countries that don’t qualify for Unicef vaccines buy the shots themselves, but till now haven’t had detailed intelligence on market pricing.

Unicef has long published the average price it paid manufacturers for each type of vaccine, but not the price paid to each individual manufacturer. That was partly because companies were reluctant to disclose that detail.

On Friday May 27, 2011, the agency posted several years’ worth of data on prices paid to individual companies, and said it would mandate in all future contracts that pricing be made public, in hopes of transparency within the business.

Shannelle Hall, director of Unicef’s supply division, said the move “will support governments and partners in making more informed decisions” and would “foster a competitive, diverse supplier base.”

Joan Howe, also a Unicef spokeswoman, said the agency made the decision “in the hopes it will lead to a more competitive market and lower prices, especially for newer vaccines.”

The initial pricing data showed a difference of as much as a dollar per vaccine. Which in turn, when purchased for an entire population could amount to several million dollars.

A Glaxo spokesman said the company always offers Unicef vaccines at its lowest prices. “We welcome Unicef’s move to publish retrospective prices for tenders and hope that this will help inform decisions for future vaccine procurement,” he said.

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders, which successfully pressed for lower AIDS drug prices in Africa a decade ago and has campaigned for the public posting of vaccine prices, declared the move a victory.

“This is going to make a huge difference,” said Daniel Berman, deputy director of the charity’s global access campaign. “As soon as the donors see the differentials, they’re going to insist that Unicef and GAVI get better prices.” After reviewing the prices revealed by Unicef, Mr. Berman, also said the price difference was still a concern, and accused some companies of charging “outrageous” prices.

Shanelle Hall, director of Unicef’s supply division and the driving force behind this new transparency policy, said she hoped to extend it to other goods that Unicef buys, including mosquito nets, diagnostic kits, essential medicines and ready-to-eat foods for starving children.

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