In this interview, Kate Elder, the Access Campaign’s Vaccines Policy Advisor who worked on the campaign, talks about what this public advocacy and action achieved, and the lessons learned.
Lessons Learned From “A Fair Shot”
Pneumonia is the top killer of children younger than five years of age, despite the availability of a vaccine – pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). For many years, and still the case today in some places, PCV was priced out of reach for many developing countries. In 2015, the Access Campaign embarked on a public campaign called “A Fair Shot” (www.afairshot.org), calling on the pharmaceutical corporations Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to lower the price of PCV, so that MSF, countries and other healthcare providers could afford the vaccine and immunize many more children. Over 400,000 people signed a petition to demand a lower price.
What was the genesis of the “A Fair Shot” Campaign?
PCV is important in our medical operations because pneumonia is one of the leading killers of children we see. Around 2007, we started talking with Pfizer and GSK about purchasing it for our operations. These were long, drawn-out, unsuccessful discussions. The companies didn’t want to lower their price but instead offered vaccine donations, which we didn’t want to accept for the numerous issues brought by donations. MSF typically doesn’t accept donations in the form of medicines because of restrictive conditions on use and the risks associated with an unsustainable or unpredictable supply. There was a lot of internal discussion about accepting this donation versus children going without the vaccine. Finally, after about five years of trying to get affordable access to the vaccine, MSF made an exception to accept one donation while at the same time raising public pressure on the companies to obtain a long-term access solution.
What was the goal of the campaign?
We set an ambitious and aspirational goal of having both Pfizer and GSK lower the price of their PCVs to US$5 for the three doses needed to vaccinate one child, for all developing countries and humanitarian organisations. We also called for both companies to publish the prices they charge countries, as well as the R&D costs, and for countries themselves to publish the prices they were paying for PCV.
How did the Access Campaign work together with MSF operations (medical programmes) to carry out such a public campaign?
In the long lead-up before the campaign, the Access Campaign supported MSF’s medical operations at the highest levels in direct bilateral negotiations with the companies. I think this was why the MSF movement was ready to mobilize a public campaign because the engagement with companies had already been done hand in hand with our medical operations. The Access Campaign brought the policy and campaigning expertise, and the medical teams brought the reality of kids dying from pneumonia in our projects and a very strong case of why PCV is needed.
What did the campaign achieve?
We finally had access to the lowest global price being paid by some countries, which was US$9 for three doses, a price that had been inaccessible to us. Also achieved was the creation of the “Humanitarian Mechanism”, whereby NGOs, regardless of where they are working, can purchase at this lowest global price. I’d say that was the biggest achievement. MSF has widely used the Humanitarian Mechanism now.
By the end of 2018, MSF had used 360,000 doses in 12 emergency vaccinations in Central African Republic, Nigeria, Niger, South Sudan, and Syria.
What did we learn from doing this campaign?
We learned that there are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who agree that access to lifesaving vaccines is critical, and want big pharma companies to change their way of doing business to enable this. These people want to help and are looking for actions they can take to further the cause. If we can bring them ideas for these relatively small but meaningful actions in standing up to the pharmaceutical corporations, we can actually make a big difference.