Posted by: davidjolson | 07/11/2011

Vaccines: Saving lives and dollars

This is a guest blog by Erin Fry, a government affairs officer at PATH.

Last week, I attended a briefing on Capitol Hill titled “Making the Case for Cost-Effectiveness of Vaccines for Global Health” sponsored by Research!America, the Global Health Council, and PATH. The briefing focused on how vaccines not only save lives, but dollars, too. Panelists Marc LaForce of the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), a partnership between PATH and the World Health Organization, Lewellys Barker of Aeras, and Peter Hotez of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, all shared the exciting vaccine development work under way at their respective organizations.

What struck me most about the event wasn’t the impressive economic figures (although an 18% return on investment by 2020 is quite remarkable), but the role that health systems play in ensuring an effective vaccination program. Here are the points I found most interesting:

  • Basic vaccine infrastructure is critical for the successful introduction of new vaccines. The MenAfriVac™ campaign in West Africa was not an accidental success. Prior to MVP’s involvement, Burkina Faso’s routine vaccination rate was already high. This groundwork facilitated the vaccination of 10 million people under the age of 30 at risk for meningitis A in ten days. Introduction of MenAfriVac™ in seven additional endemic countries is expected to save $300 million and one million cases of illness this decade.
  • Integrating vaccine delivery with other health care services can greatly improve community health. By sharing resources, including supply chains, facilities, equipment and personnel, all systems are strengthened and costs are streamlined. Additionally, vaccine systems can be the first back up and running after disasters and can address many community health needs.
  • Regulatory review remains a significant hurdle. It is vitally important to ensure that products are safe, effective, and appropriate for use. However, poor coordination and lack of capacity within the many regulatory authorities involved often delay introduction significantly, leading to additional lives lost and costs incurred.
  • Partnerships with industry in middle-income countries can have both economic and diplomatic benefits. To achieve the necessary price point of 50 cents a dose, MVP contracted with the Serum Institute of India to produce the vaccine. Similarly, plans are under way for Sabin’s Schistosomiasis Vaccine Initiative to partner with a Brazilian manufacturer and Aeras has been working with the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative. Separately, at the height of the Cold War, American and Russian scientists put aside their political differences to develop the polio vaccine. This model has been proposed as a best practice and there is ongoing dialogue with the US State Department and the nongovernmental organization (NGO) community about furthering this type of scientific diplomacy.
  • Product development partnerships are an important mechanism to foster new global health technologies where traditional market incentives are scarce. By pooling financial and scientific resources, governments, NGOs and industry work together to develop a new product. This arrangement allowed MenAfriVac™ to be developed at one-tenth of the typical cost to bring a new vaccine to market.

Read Research!America’s blog on this briefing.

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