Bulletin of the World Health Organization
Volume 90, Number 7, July 2012, 477-556
Reduced price on rotavirus vaccines: enough to facilitate access where most needed?
- Lizell B Madsen et al.
Rotavirus infections, the most common cause of severe childhood diarrhoea, result in approximately 527 000 child deaths every year. The majority of these deaths occur in low-income countries, particularly in Africa and Asia.1 Rotavirus-associated diarrhoea can be prevented by new live attenuated human rotavirus vaccines. These vaccines have proved safe and efficacious in large-scale clinical trials and post-licensure studies have confirmed their effectiveness in middle- and high-income countries.2,3 However, they have only been partially implemented in national immunization programmes in low-income countries, even though these countries have higher rates of death from rotavirus infection.4
The pharmaceutical companies behind the two internationally licensed rotavirus vaccines, Rotarix® (GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, Rixensart, Belgium) and RotaTeq® (Merck & Co. Inc., Whitehouse Station, United States of America), have recently pledged to the United Nations Children’s Fund and the international donor community to provide their vaccines to low-income countries at greatly reduced prices.4,5 In spite of these reductions, rotavirus vaccines continue to be more expensive than most traditional childhood vaccines included in the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI). This rekindles the traditional debate surrounding access to new childhood vaccines in low-income countries.
In this paper, we examine whether the newly-proposed vaccine prices are low enough to make rotavirus vaccines universally accessible to the millions of children in need of protection against rotavirus infection, a major threat to child health. Furthermore, we discuss the steps that need to be taken in the future to facilitate the introduction of rotavirus vaccines and ensure their sustained financing in low-income countries.