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US drug companies announce vaccine initiative

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.320.7237.736 (Published 18 March 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:736
  1. James Ciment
  1. New York

    Responding to an appeal from President Clinton, the heads of the world's four largest vaccine manufacturers announced a plan to donate $150m (£94m) worth of “state of the art” vaccines to the developing world after a meeting at the White House on 2 March.

    The four companies—Merck and Company, American Home Products, SmithKline Beecham, and Aventis Pharmaceuticals—also pledged to increase their budgets for research and development for HIV/AIDS and malaria vaccines.

    The donations will be channelled largely through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, an international group of business leaders (including Bill Gates of Microsoft, philanthropic organisations, development banks, agencies of the United Nations, and national governments), which was established in 1999.

    Merck announced that it was donating five million doses of Recombivax HB, a vaccine against hepatitis B; American Home Products made a gift of 10 million doses of Haemophilus, a vaccine against Haemophilus influenzae type B and an important cause of meningitis. In addition, SmithKline has said that it would expand its research programme into developing a malaria vaccine and renewed its pledge to commit $1bn to eliminate lymphatic filariasis. Aventis has offered to provide 50 million doses of polio vaccine to Africa.

    According to Victoria Valentine, a spokeswoman at the White House, the private sector's commitments “grew out of remarks the president made during his speech to the United Nations in September to establish better cooperation between the public and private sectors for vaccine development.”

    During his state of the union message to Congress in January, Mr Clinton announced the millennium vaccine initiative. The initiative includes a $50m contribution to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization; a billion dollar tax credit to speed up development of vaccines, particularly those needed in developing countries; and increases in the budget of the National Institutes of Health.

    In addition, the president said that he would urge the World Bank and other multi-lateral development banks to increase by $400m to $900m dollars annually the low interest loans that they make to health services in the developing world.

    “Today,” President Clinton announced at the meeting, “we're beginning a partnership to eradicate the leading infectious killers of our time, speeding the delivery of vaccines, and getting to the heart of the problem: the lack of incentives for private industry to invest in new vaccines for people who simply can't afford to buy them.”

    But critics of the president's overall record on aid for health care to the developing world say that the administration's latest efforts fall far short of the overall need and are intended to counteract recent bad publicity.

    Last year, the vice president, Al Gore, came under sharp criticism from AIDS activists and officials in the South African government for the administration's threat to implement trade sanctions if Pretoria proceeded with a plan to produce generic versions of AIDS drugs that had been patented by pharmaceutical companies based in the United States.


    Embedded Image

    Bill Gates's company is one of several in a global alliance channelling vaccine donations to the developing world

    (Credit: AFP)

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