LONDON (Reuters) - A new vaccine against the most deadly forms of pneumonia, one of the world’s biggest killers of children, will be launched in Nicaragua from Sunday as part of an effort to prevent 700,000 deaths in poorer countries by 2015.
The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) said Nicaragua would be the first developing nation to begin vaccinating children with the pneumococcal shots, made by drugmakers Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, and another 18 countries will follow in the next few years.
But GAVI Alliance said in a statement on Friday that it hoped to be able to fund the vaccines for more than 40 countries in total by 2015 — a project it says could help avert up to 7 million deaths by 2030.
The launch in Nicaragua marks the beginning of a global routine immunization program led by GAVI, a public-private partnership set up in 2000 to speed the introduction of vaccines into the world’s poorest countries.
After starting in Central America, the roll out of the vaccine will move to the Middle East and Africa, starting in Kenya in February next year.
Pneumococcal disease, which can cause pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis, kills more than half a million children every year and the vast majority of these deaths are in poorer countries where access to healthcare can be limited and very expensive.
Pfizer and GSK signed a 10-year deal with GAVI in March to supply 60 million doses a year of their Synflorix and Prevnar 13 pneumococcal vaccines to developing nations, at a discounted price of $7 per dose for the first 20 percent and $3.50 for the remaining 80 percent.
The deal was the first under a new scheme called an Advance Market Commitment (AMC) which guarantees a market for vaccines supplied to poor nations and sets a maximum price drugmakers can expect to receive.
By comparison, GSK and Pfizer charge between $54 and $108 per shot for these vaccines in rich nations. GSK’s Synflorix vaccine protects against 10 strains of the streptococcus pneumonia bacteria which cause pneumonia, while Pfizer’s Prevnar 13 shot protects against 13 strains.
GAVI spokesman Dan Thomas said two other potential suppliers, Panacea Biotech and the Serum Institute of India had expressed an interest in joining the project but had not yet signed a supply deal.
“We’re hoping they will also join — and obviously the more manufacturers we have, the more consistent the supply will be and the greater the chance is that competition will reduce the price further,” he told Reuters.
Thomas said GAVI had so far approved 19 developing countries to receive the pneumococcal shots, and at least another 20 more need the vaccines too, but that would depend on GAVI’s funding.
GAVI is currently facing a $3.9 billion gap in the funds it needs to run its immunization projects up until 2015. “Clearly if we don’t get that funding, then there’s a question mark about whether we’ll be able to do all these countries,” Thomas said.
The pneumococcal AMC deal was part-funded by Britain, Italy, Canada, Russia, Norway and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who agreed in June last year to invest a total of $1.5 billion in the project.
Editing by Diana Abdallah