November 9, 2018

Merck Backs Out of Vaccine Commitment to Africa

What is the responsibility of pharmaceutical companies to provide life saving medicines to countries that cannot afford top dollar prices? Merck & Co. Inc. recently received approval to sell their rotavirus vaccine, RotaTeq, in China, while simultaneously ending a long-term agreement to supply the vaccine for children in West Africa.  Rotavirus is the leading cause of death due to diarrhea, and is responsible for half a million deaths annually, half of which are in Africa. Worldwide, most children are exposed to rotavirus by the time they are 5 years old. In the Western world, rotavirus can be severe but is rarely lethal.  Contrast the 70 deaths per year reported in industrialized nations versus the more than 500,000 deaths reported in developing nations. In 2011, Merck agreed to sell its rotavirus vaccine to low-income countries, via Gavi, a vaccine alliance, for a steep discount — about $3.50 per dose as opposed to the approximate cost of $70 per dose for the United States. For six years, Merck…
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