The United Nations Children’s Fund has made a deal with six vaccine manufacturers that will cut in half the price of a shot that protects children against five diseases, the fund announced last week.
The deal will mean three years’ worth of vaccine at an average price of 84 cents a dose; buyers currently pay about $1.84, according to Unicef.
Unicef will buy about 450 million doses for 80 of the world’s poorest countries. Low- and middle-income countries purchasing vaccine for themselves can also qualify for the lower prices, Unicef said.
The vaccine protects against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae Type B (known as Hib). Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, estimates that the shots will prevent more than five million deaths by the year 2020.
In 2001, only one company made the so-called pentavalent vaccine. As more companies have started offering it, Unicef has forced them to compete by holding several rounds of bidding for large contracts and publishing all of the prices that were offered.
Another advantage of an expanded market is that vaccine plants can develop sterility problems that force them to shut down for cleaning and repairs. Having multiple manufacturers ensures against shortages, which can be disastrous during epidemics.
Measles shots and doses of vitamin A are among the chief reasons t the number of children who die before reaching age 5 has dropped sharply. The number was about 10 million a year 10 years ago; it is now approaching five million a year.
But the diseases prevented by the pentavalent vaccine kill many of the youngest infants. Progress saving those lives has been slower. The Hib bacterium alone, for example, kills about 350,000 children a year.
The pentavalent shot is typically given to each baby three times — at 6 weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks. Measles vaccine and vitamin A are usually not given until about 9 months.