In what may put pneumonia patients in poorer nations at greater risk as per some health groups, India has granted a patent to Pfizer Inc for its powerful pneumonia vaccine Prevenar 13, which is priced at abnormally higher rates. This decision puts the treatment of the disease among the poorer sections at risk since it bars other companies from manufacturing cheaper copies of the vaccine, allowing Pfizer to exclusively sell the vaccine in India till 2026.
India’s approval is evidently a big victory to the American drugmaker, as India showcases the world’s largest number of pneumonia cases, with more than a million children succumbing to it every year.
However, this decision also has major international implications as several poor nations around the globe depend on India’s powerful drug industry for the supply of cheaper alternatives to expensive vaccines and medicines.
Pfizer’s vaccine has the capability of protecting children and adults from 13 variants of pneumococcal bacteria and the entire vaccination course may set a patient back by $170 (over 10,000 rupees) as per India’s private market.
On the other hand, India had started out giving vaccinations for free under its national immunization program since March this year. However, since the roll-out is extremely restricted, only 2.5 million people will get it this year among the 25 million eligible people. However, the government statement issued earlier this year pertaining to the phased roll-out did not give any reason for the discrepancy whatsoever.
According to the famed medical charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF):
Manufacturers will have to find new routes to develop a non-infringing (pneumonia) vaccine, which may delay the availability of competing products in the pipeline from Indian producers.
MSF had also filed an objection to Pfizer’s patent request last year on the grounds that such a patent would strip off the poorer nations from having access to the anti-pneumonia vaccines. MSF further said that numerous other countries, including South Korea and the US itself, have challenged the patent whereas the European Patent Office had altogether revoked Pfizer’s patent on the same vaccine.
Meanwhile, Prevenar 13 has been made available by the pharmaceutical giant at discounted rates under the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) – an international public-private partnership to improve access to vaccines in the world’s poorest countries. Pfizer’s website showcases the eligibility of more than 50 countries to purchase the vaccines through GAVI.
In fact, following such tremendous criticism last year, Pfizer reduced the price of Prevenar 13 to non-governmental organizations as a measure to protect vulnerable people from the dreadful lung disease on humanitarian grounds.
Pfizer’s spokesperson in India also welcomed India’s grant of the patent, saying Prevenar 13 took two-and-a-half years to produce and was launched in India in 2010:
Pfizer remains committed towards further enhancing access of this vaccine in India, both in the market as well as through partnership with the Government to expand introduction in the public program.