The global health strategy to expand childhood immunizations, largely backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is too focused on new vaccines and neglects the fundamental need to improve basic public health and immunization programs in poor countries.
So says Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), aka Doctors Without Borders, in a new report issued today by the organization entitled The Right Shot: Extending the Reach of Affordable and Adapted Vaccines.
The medical relief and aid advocacy organization is critical of a new, 10-year, multi-billion dollar “Global Vaccines Action Plan” expected to be adopted by global health leaders at the World Health Assembly meeting next week. The plan is largely funded by the Gates Foundation.
MSF says it favors expanding access to new vaccines — just not at the expense of basic immunizations.
“Twenty percent of the world’s children aren’t even getting the basic vaccines,” said Kate Elder, MSF vaccine policy adviser. The Gates Foundation is driving much of the global health policy decisions around vaccinations, Elder noted, and “Bill Gates’ priority is new vaccines.” The philanthropy’s influence is distorting the agenda to favor new vaccines over basic improvements, she said.
Daniel Berman, MSF’s deputy director for access, cited a recent initiative to distribute a new $7-per-dose pneumococcal vaccine in DR Congo in the middle of a measles outbreak. Why, Berman asked, are donors and health agencies pushing this new, expensive vaccine in Congo if Congolese children still aren’t getting a 30-cent measles vaccine?
The approach appears aimed more at supporting drug industry desires to promote new products than at finding the most efficient and sustainable means for fighting the diseases of poverty, he said.
The Right Shot may be a new report from MSF, but it is hardly a new criticism of the Gates Foundation’s approach to vaccines. Others have criticized the philanthropy before for a tendency to place industry interests above the concerns of poverty advocates.
The Seattle philanthropy, though contacted in advance of the report’s release, declined to comment or respond today to the MSF criticism – or to the group’s call for a new global strategy with more emphasis on beefing up basic, routine immunizations. The organization sponsored by the foundation to promote the new global strategy, the Decade of Vaccines collaboration, also did not respond.