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Citing Manufacturing Challenges, Merck Says It Will Stop Supplying Rotavirus Vaccine To West African Nations Through Gavi By 2020

NPR: Merck Pulls Out Of Agreement To Supply Life-Saving Vaccine To Millions Of Kids
“The pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Inc. is ending a long-term agreement to supply a lifesaving vaccine for children in West Africa. At the same time, the company has started sending the vaccine to China, where it will likely be sold for a much higher price. The vaccine is for a deadly form of diarrhea, called rotavirus, which kills about 200,000 young children and babies each year. Merck’s decision means it will fall short of its commitment to supply its rotavirus vaccine, RotaTeq, to four low-income countries in 2018 and 2019, according to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. By 2020, the company will completely stop delivering its vaccine. … In 2011, Merck agreed to sell its rotavirus vaccine to low-income countries, via Gavi, for a greatly reduced price — about $3.50 per dose. … [In China, e]ach dose will likely cost … more than $40…” (Doucleff, 11/1).

STAT: Merck cuts back on vaccine commitment to West Africa as shipments to China ramp up
“…In a conference held in New York on Thursday, Merck Chief Executive Ken Frazier maintained the drug maker did not ‘pull out’ of the agreement to supply the West African countries. ‘What happened, with respect to rotavirus vaccine and our HPV vaccine, over the last few years, there has been an unprecedented rise in the demand for those vaccines. And vaccines are not like small chemicals where you can press a lot of pills. There is a long lead time associated with vaccines. And so, we have a temporary problem right now, where the demand outstrips the supply. We did suffer some manufacturing challenges that actually contributed to this. But we are still selling vaccines to those countries. The challenge that we have is we have to now build new manufacturing facilities in order to do the rotavirus and the HPV vaccine,’ he explained. Frazier added that Merck is not ‘hard-hearted,’ and pointed to the Ebola vaccine the country supplied to the Congo last spring…” (Silverman, 11/1).

Additional coverage of this story is available from Axios and Fortune.

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