The pharma giant was recently granted a patent on their vaccine for pneumonia in India, which has been highly questioned by for example Medecins sans Frontiers (MSF).
The patent approval means that other pharma companies are not allowed to manufacture cheaper versions of the vaccine and this is a major backlash in the fight for providing better access to pharmaceuticals in poor countries, according to MSF. The vaccine, PCV13, protects against 13 different types of bacteria that may cause pneumonia, one of the foremost causes of death among children.
“The fact that a lifesaving vaccine is out of reach for millions of children is unacceptable,” states Pieter-Jan Van Eggermont, humanitarian advisor at MSF.
According to Van Eggermont the vaccine is so expensive that many low- and middle income countries cannot afford to purchase it.
The approved patent, marketed as Prevenar13, is valid until 2026 and Indian pharma companies have already announced that they are ready to produce cheaper versions of the vaccine with the same function and quality. But the decision from the Indian patent office means that they must find new and more time consuming methods.
A fair shot
MSF has for a long time fought for increased access to a more price-worthy vaccine against pneumonia and in March last year they made a patent objection against Pfizer’s application in India.
“The technical development behind the vaccine is of such a small significance that it should not be patent protected at all according to India law. This is just a way for Pfizer to guarantee a prolonged monopoly on the market for many years ahead,” says Leena Menghaney, responsible for South Asia at MSF’s access campaign. This decision threatens to diminish the country’s roll as “the pharmacy for the poor” and many countries are completely dependent on generic production in order to purchase lifesaving drugs and vaccines at a cheaper price. Doctors Without Borders purchases a large amount of their drugs through generic production and since 2015 has run the campaign “A Fair Shot” with the goal to get the pharma companies Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline to lower the price on pneumonia vaccine to 5 dollar/child for three doses.
After the criticism over the high price, Pfizer reduced the price for non-governmental organizations last November. They welcome the grant of the patent, saying it took two-and-a-half years to produce and was launched in India in 2010. “Pfizer remains committed towards further enhancing access of this vaccine in India, both in the market as well as through partnership with the Government to expand introduction in the public program,” a spokeswoman in India said.