Vaccine conference seeks funds

A vaccination dose is being prepared during an outbreak in Bali, Indonesia.

HOBSON: There's a big meeting going on in London today that's all about helping children in poor countries get life-saving vaccines. Attendees will include drugmakers, charitable organizations and representatives from richer countries. They'll be pledging money to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, also known as GAVI.

The alliance is hoping the U.S. will pony up nearly $500 million for the cause, as Christopher Werth reports.


CHRISTOPHER WERTH: Pneumonia and diarrhea are the two biggest killers of children in developing countries. They're preventable, but vaccines cost money.

And Nina Schwalbe, GAVI's managing director for policy, says the alliance is looking to donors to cover a big shortfall in its budget.

NINA SCHWALBE: We need to raise $3.7 billion so that we can immunize 250 million children over the next five years and save four million lives.

Schwalbe says GAVI uses that money in innovative ways to get the job done. For example, because donor funds come in slowly in installments, GAVI has sold around $3.5 billion in bonds backed by past pledges so it doesn't have to wait for the money.

SCHWALBE: Having the cash now means we can purchase the vaccines and vaccinate kids now.

James Hargreaves, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says GAVI is also trying to get the newest and most advanced vaccines to poorer countries faster. So GAVI created what it calls an Advanced Market Commitment to get those vaccines to countries that can't afford them.

JAMES HARGREAVES: The Advanced Market Commitment is an attempt to incentivize those companies by assuring that there will be a pot of money to purchase these products in the long term.

In other words if drug companies make the vaccines, GAVI has promised to buy them. It started with vaccines for pneumonia, which Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline already sold in the U.S. and Europe. GAVI got them to ramp up supplies for the developing world within a year by setting aside $1.5 billion to cover the costs.

DANIEL BERMAN: That's huge money.

Daniel Berman of Doctors Without Borders takes issue with the idea. He says the companies were already making billions of dollars selling the vaccines in rich countries.

BERMAN: You really have to scratch your head when you think why do they need a subsidy to sell that same product in poor countries?

Instead, he says GAVI's money would be better spent helping drug makers from emerging markets to develop vaccines at a fraction of the price.

In London, I'm Christopher Werth for Marketplace.

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