Pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer have been urged to cut the price of their pneumococcal vaccines in poor countries to $5 per child.
International charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says "skyrocketing" prices mean that vaccinating a child in the world's poorest countries is now 68 times more expensive than in 2001.
In a newly released report, MSF said that pneumococcal shots alone accounted for about 45 per cent of the cost of fully vaccinating a child against 12 diseases.
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Without the vaccine, children are at risk of pneumonia, sepsis and bacterial meningitis. According to the World Health Organisation, up to 1.6 million people die each year globally as a result of pneumococcal diseases – half of whom are children younger than five years old in developing countries.
Kate Elder, an MSF policy adviser, said governments need to put pressure on drug companies to offer better prices. "We need to put public health before profit. Life-saving vaccines for children shouldn't be big business in poor countries," she said.
"Because of the astronomical cost of new vaccines, many governments are facing tough choices about which deadly diseases they can afford to protect their children against."
MSF claimed that GSK and Pfizer had reported more than $19bn in global sales for pneumococcal vaccines since their launch.
The two big pharma companies are currently the sole manufacturers of the pneumococcal vaccine, reports The Guardian.
However, GSK said it was barely covering its costs with the price it charges poorer countries for its pneumococcal shot, Synflorix, which it described as "one of the most complex we've ever manufactured". It warned that discounting the vaccines further would threaten its ability to supply them long-term.
Pfizer said its pneumococcal shot, Prevenar 13, was also very complex. "It takes more than two years to create one batch of Prevenar 13, encompassing some 500 separate quality control tests... multiple facilities and hundreds of trained professionals," it said.
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