Intended for healthcare professionals


Fair vaccine pricing please, not random acts of charity

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 23 November 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i6173
  1. Els Torreele, director access to medicines and innovation1,
  2. Mariana Mazzucato, R M Phillips professor in the economics of innovation2
  1. 1Open Society Foundations, New York, NY 10019, USA
  2. 2Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
  1. Correspondence to: E Torreele els.torreele{at}

Vaccines are essential goods produced collectively to safeguard children, wherever they live

Last month, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) surprised Pfizer and the world by refusing a donation of one million doses of the company’s vaccine against Pneumococcus, the leading cause of pneumonia worldwide, killing one million children every year.1 Although the need for the vaccine is high—only 37% of children worldwide are being immunised2—MSF judged it more important to press the company to lower the price, which is the primary obstacle to access.3 And with success: Pfizer, following the example of GlaxoSmithKline, the other producer of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines, has since announced that humanitarian organisations will get the vaccine at a special price,4 similar to that it is already offering to Gavi, a public-private partnership that works to increase access to vaccines in some 50 of the poorest countries.5

But donations and benevolent price reductions for selected countries or populations remain random acts of charity that do not get to the heart of the problem: the unacceptable commodification of human lives by drug companies using monopoly pricing power to determine who lives and who dies.

Price discrimination—that is, charging …

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