News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Drug company chief urges faster introduction of new vaccines in poor nations

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 29 June 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:11
  1. John Zarocostas
  1. Geneva

    The head of a leading drug company has urged the world's health community to speed up the introduction of new life saving vaccines in poor countries and avoid the customary lengthy delays.

    “Many new vaccines are becoming a reality against rotavirus, pneumocccal disease, and cervical cancer,” the president of GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, Jean Stéphenne, said. “These vaccines are there, so it's important to introduce them today in developing countries and not 20 years later.”

    He said that with the exception of the rotavirus vaccine, which was introduced in Latin America and Europe at the same time, so far vaccines had been introduced in developing countries some 10 to 20 years after developed countries had received them.

    “What we expect now is that all these vaccines be introduced in the poorest countries,” he said. “The money is there, the science is there. How to use these vaccines in the field is the critical thing.”

    Mr Stéphenne said that the rotavirus vaccine had proved that it was perfectly possible to hasten the process. “The infrastructure exists. If there is the willingness to introduce it it can be done within one or two years,” he said. But whether it can be done depends on the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization and the World Health Organization, he added.

    “You need people to push it here, and WHO will not play that role,” he said. “WHO is a good scientific adviser, but it's not responsible for introducing the vaccines.”

    International healthcare agencies, such as Unicef and Médecins Sans Frontières, could play an important part in advancing the new vaccines, once the scientific assessments had been completed, he said. New initiatives such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and commitments by the G8 most developed countries were also critical for injecting new energy into the introduction of new vaccines in poor countries.

    Thomas Cherian, acting joint coordinator of the WHO's expanded programme on immunisation, said: “We agree [that] a lot of life saving vaccines are out there. The financial situation is better, and we do not like to see any delay [in the introduction of vaccines] between developed and developing countries.” WHO was working closely with the global alliance to invest in new vaccines, he said.

    But Dr Cherian added: “We see our role as helping countries make decisions. We like decisions to be country based, country driven, and evidence based and not [to be] pushed.”

    Initially all the data for the rotavirus vaccine had come from Western countries, he said. No trial results had come from Africa or Asia. The introduction of oral vaccines in developing countries with high levels of infectious disease can be problematic, Dr Cherian said, which can make it difficult to make recommendations without hard evidence.

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