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Merck Backs Out of Vaccine Commitment to Africa

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Merck’s decision may leave more than 2 million children in West Africa unvaccinated and vulnerable to rotavirus in 2020.

At the same time Merck cut the vaccine supplies to West African countries, they began delivering RotaTeq to China.  Each vaccine will likely cost more than $40 per dose.  When asked if there was a connection between the launch in China and Merck not fulfilling their West African commitment, a Merck spokesperson wrote:

When faced with supply constraints, such as this, we evaluate all options to determine how we can fulfill the agreement we made with UNICEF and GAVI-eligible countries to the best of our ability, while at the same time meet the binding contract demands we have with other countries. The product we have allocated to China is what has been approved for use in that country to fulfill the terms of a binding agreement we signed with a local vaccine company in 2012. As I’m sure you can appreciate, the details of that contract is proprietary to Merck; as such, we cannot confirm the number of doses nor discuss price.

“Kids should not be denied vaccines just because they belong to a poor country.”-Dr. Mathuram Santosham at Johns Hopkins University

Where does that leave the kids in West Africa? UNICEF, which delivers vaccines to poor countries worldwide, says it’s trying to help the West African countries switch to another vaccine.  The World Health Organization prequalified two new rotavirus vaccines manufactured in India earlier this year:  Rotasil and Rotavac.  Both vaccines are available to Gavi at a cost of less than $2 per dose.

Unfortunately, the switch will not be quick-or easy.  Prequalification of a vaccine is the beginning of a long process, including a regulatory actions that must occur.   The process is daunting, with more than a few moving parts that require time and money.  New vaccines may be tested in small pilot programs, health care workers have to be retrained on vaccine administration, clinics need the ability to store and transport the new vaccine.  That will require possibly up to five years for the vaccine to be widely available in West Africa, says Frederick Cassels, at the nonprofit PATH, which helped develop Rotasil and Rotavac.  Even just a delay of a few years would put millions of babies at risk for rotavirus, says Johns Hopkins University’s Santosham. “We all as a community should come together and make sure these kids get this vaccine.”

According to Merck, their third quarter 2018 worldwide sales were $10.8 billion.  Good for Merck-really.  More profits mean more research, and more lives saved overall.  Most reasonable people realize that companies need to make a profit to stay in business, and that includes pharmaceutical companies.  But the pharmaceutical industry is not like other industries that sell tires or pizza.  Due to the nature of the business, pharmaceutical industry profits are made off of illness and disease–this requires a level of sensitivity and responsibility to the community that the local pizza joint does not need to make.

What level of responsibility do pharmaceutical companies owe to the people?  Has Merck denied their responsibility to the community and turned their back on the poor children of Africa?  Can a company be both profitable and ethical, or are those incompatible values?  These are questions that need consideration, since we live in a world with expanding need, and shrinking resources. 

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HIV Controlled by Antibody Therapy

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Today, an estimated 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the United States, and improvements in antiretroviral therapy have turned HIV into a manageable condition.  Thanks to better treatments, people with HIV are now living longer—and with a better quality of life—than ever before.  Yet even the most effective drugs only suppress the virus, which hides in the body, ready to rise to dangerous levels should a patient stop their medication regime. To continue suppression of HIV, patients must adhere to strict daily medication schedules, which can be burdensome and expensive.   Read More

Latest Research Offers Alternative to Addictive Opioids

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The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relieversheroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a growing national crisis affecting public health and creating an enormous burden on the healthcare system.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total economic impact of prescription opioid misuse in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.

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Can an Asthma Drug Reverse Dementia?

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dementia_istock_000029744938_largeDementia is a term describing a variety of diseases that develop when nerve cells in the brain die or become impaired. The death of neurons causes changes in memory, behavior, physical capabilities and personality. In many of these diseases, such as Alzheimers, the associated changes often prove to be fatal. Read More

Biosimilars: Growing Pains in a New Arena

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New Research on Spinal Cord Injury

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Spinal-Cord-Injury
The spinal cord is very sensitive to injury, and unlike other parts of your body, lacks the ability to self repair when damaged, making spinal injuries potentially devastating. A spinal cord injury — damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal (cauda equina) — often causes permanent changes in strength, sensation and other body functions below the site of the injury.  An injury can occur when there is damage to the spinal cord from trauma, restriction of blood supply, or compression from a tumor or infection. There are approximately 12,000 new cases of spinal cord injury each year in the United States, most frequently in males. Read More

Long Acting Treatment for Schizophrenia May Offer New Hope

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image showing the confusion of schizophrenia

Schizophrenia, Latin for “split mind,” is a chronic, severe and disabling brain disorder, affecting an estimated 2.4 million American adults and their families.  The hallmark of schizophrenia is disorganized thinking, which can manifest as positive symptoms (hallucinations and delusions) and negative symptoms (depression, blunted emotions and social withdrawal).  Although schizophrenia is not as common as other mental disorders, the symptoms can be very disabling. In the past, there were different classes of schizophrenia, also known as ‘subtypes’. Disorganized schizophrenia, catatonic schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder have since been absorbed into the larger diagnosis of schizophrenia, but are still used to describe the widely varied ways schizophrenia can manifest from person to person.  Read More

Insomnia: The Hidden Costs of Poor Sleep

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Insomnia is a common problem for people of all ages, with a number of people suffering from an inability to sleep.  Based on estimates derived from population-based studies, approximately 30% of adults worldwide report symptoms of insomnia: difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, waking up too early or poor quality of sleep.  Common comorbidities associated with insomnia are psychiatric disorders, with an estimated 40% of all insomnia patients experiencing a coexisting psychiatric condition.  Among these psychiatric disorders, depression is the most common, and insomnia is a diagnostic symptom for depressive and anxiety disorders.

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