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The new ‘Humanitarian Mechanism’: more affordable vaccines for children in conflict

By Kirsten Mathieson, Senior Health Policy and Research Adviser, and Emma Diggle, Humanitarian Health Adviser


Save the Children is proud to help launch the new ‘Humanitarian Mechanism’, developed alongside WHO, UNICEF, and Médecins Sans Frontières, to support civil society organisations’ procurement of affordable vaccines for use in humanitarian emergencies.

Affordable and timely access to vaccines is a key challenge to protecting children affected by conflict from vaccine-preventable diseases. For example, MSF was previously asked to pay as much as $68.10 for as single dose of the pneumococcal vaccine to vaccinate refugee children in Greece.

Such prohibitive prices can prevent humanitarian organisations from delivering emergency vaccination programmes where they are most needed. Two-thirds of unimmunised children globally live in conflict-affected countries. Unaffordable vaccines shouldn’t be a barrier to these children being protected from potentially life-threatening, yet easily prevented diseases. By helping to make vaccines more affordable, so that they can reach some of the most excluded children, the new ‘Humanitarian Mechanism’ is a tremendous step forwards in addressing this challenge.

The Humanitarian Mechanism will help civil society organisations (CSOs) operating in humanitarian contexts to step in where governments are unable to respond, such as in Syria and South Sudan. It aims to facilitate timely access to an affordable supply of vaccines by:

  • promoting supply commitments from manufacturers
  • setting out requirements for vaccine supply in emergencies
  • managing, coordinating and verifying procurement requests.

Two of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies,GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Pfizer, have agreed to provide CSOs with access to their pneumococcal vaccines for use in humanitarian emergencies at their lowest available global prices, of $3.05 and $3.10 per dose, respectively. Given that pneumonia is one of the biggest killers of children under five worldwide, this is an incredible breakthrough that could save a huge number of lives. The new Humanitarian Mechanism will help operationalise these commitments from GSK and Pfizer.

Now that the Humanitarian Mechanism is in place, it must be used to extend affordable access for all vaccines. This requires further commitments from industry to make additional offers under this mechanism. GSK, Pfizer and other vaccine manufacturers make a number of other vaccines; those vaccines should also be available at the lowest price. We urge other companies to follow GSK’s and Pfizer’s lead, and we urge these two originator companies to expand their offer to the other relevant vaccines they produce.

We also urge companies to make a broader commitment that extends beyond refugees and internally displaced people to reach all children in humanitarian situations. Commitments must allow CSOs to access affordable vaccines to deliver immunisation in areas of a country where government services are not available – ie, where governments cannot or will not fulfil their responsibilities to deliver to the whole population.

We’ll continue to advocate on these issues so that the Humanitarian Mechanism can fully drive change to protect some of the most excluded children from all vaccine-preventable diseases.

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