The case for vaccine price transparency

May 31, 2011
What does a decision to publish supply data have to do with saving children's lives? A lot more than you'd think at first glance. On Friday, UNICEF published specific pricing information about the vaccines we use to protect much of the world's children against killer diseases.
What does a decision to publish supply data have to do with saving children's lives? A lot more than you'd think at first glance. On Friday, UNICEF published specific pricing information about the vaccines we use to protect much of the world's children against killer diseases.

Caryl Stern is the President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

What does a decision to publish supply data have to do with saving children's lives? A lot more than you'd think at first glance. On Friday, UNICEF published specific pricing information about the vaccines we use to protect much of the world's children against killer diseases. This decision inspired much media attention, including New York Times and Wall Street Journal features.

Why the fuss? Though UNICEF has previously shared average prices paid for vaccines, for the first time it has individually broken down prices per dosage, per vaccine, and per supplier. This data reveals pricing disparities. For example, a dose of one vaccine cost $3.20 from manufacturer "x" while the same dose of the same vaccine from manufacturer "z" cost $2.25. This is a large discrepancy in price particularly when you consider that UNICEF supplies vaccines to an estimated 58% of the world's children.

Ethiopia-UNICEF-vaccine.jpg
UNICEF/NYHQ2005-1288/Indrias Getachew
A UNICEF-supported door-to-door polio vaccination campaign in the village of Karo Duss in Ethiopia. The boy is from the Karo tribe. The Karo are semi-nomadic pastoralists, adding to the challenge of finding and vaccinating every child under five.

According to the New York Times, UNICEF's decision, "...could lead to drastic cuts in prices for vaccines that save millions of children's lives."

Better prices for vaccines, particularly newer vaccines, will mean donor dollars stretch further, more children can be reached, and more illnesses and deaths prevented. Reduced costs will also help other agencies and NGO's with their purchase power and results.

UNICEF took this bold step at the risk of making some influential suppliers and donors uncomfortable, but with the belief that the result will improve pricing for vaccines that could dramatically help reduce the number of preventable under-five deaths from 22,000 per day, to zero.

For more information on UNICEF's vaccine pricing, click here.