In June, the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) released its first decennial report on the progress it's made toward getting vaccines for children in Third World countries. Since its start-up a decade ago, GAVI's vaccines have gone to 250 million children in developing nations.
In those 10 years, major industrialized countries, along with the World Health Organization, the World Bank, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other agencies such as the US National Institutes of Health, have given GAVI nearly $4.5 billion.
But it's not enough, GAVI says. To continue its work, GAVI wants a total of $7 billion by 2015, with $2.4 billion going toward vaccines for pneumococcal disease and $750 million for rotavirus.
Around 80 percent of GAVI cash comes from a handful of governmental donors – the United Kingdom, France, Italy, the US, Norway, Canada, and the Netherlands through direct contributions, support of an international finance fund, and something called Advance Market Commitments (AMCs).
With AMCs, donors give vaccine makers a guaranteed market and price for their products; in return, drug makers promise to sell the vaccines at low-ball prices to poor countries.
The pneumococcal vaccine is the first to be financed under an AMC. Also on the slate as AMCs are rotavirus, tuberculosis, and malaria. The HPV vaccine is on the list too.
The AMC vaccines target diseases that are severe killers in Third World countries, but not in developed nations. But so far, it's children in developed nations who are being pushed first in line to get them -- all in order to pay for those who actually may need them, in Third World Nations.
I'm all for helping developing nations pull themselves out of poverty, sickness, and disease. But it takes more than just pouring money into vaccines to do it.
When you consider that the World Health Organization wants the power to impose worldwide taxes on Internet usage and banking transactions, so it can throw even more billions at vaccines, it makes me wonder if anyone remembers that the lack of clean water and proper sanitation facilities, not money for more vaccines, is the root cause of most disease in Third World countries.
Then again, maybe that's one reason why the US told the WHO to put its taxation plan on hold for at least two years while a working group can study better ways to finance, develop, and produce vaccines for developing nations.
New Technology Makes it Easier for System to Force Vaccines on You
A microneedle flu vaccine "patch" is in the works …
Image Source: Georgia Tech
Developing nations are not the only ones being subjected to increasing numbers of vaccines.
In the United States, researchers are trying to develop a vaccine patch with microneedles that you self-administer as though you're putting on a Band-Aid. Worse still, the vaccine "patches" could one day be sent to you in the mail!
Since there are no sharp needles involved and you can stick the patch on right in your own home, researchers are hoping vaccine patches will catch on … and ultimately more people will get vaccinated.
Not surprisingly, the vaccine that's slated for patch form first is the dangerous and completely unnecessary flu vaccine.
The U.S. Gives Billions to Finance Vaccines for Poor Countries
I recently posted an article on the Advance Market Commitments (AMC) concept, which was created to induce drug companies to develop vaccines for diseases that kill people mostly in Third World countries.
The idea is simple: "rich" nations sign legally binding commitments to purchase and/or finance an AMC vaccine once it's ready for market. In return for the guaranteed market and income, drug companies promise to sell the new vaccine to "poor" countries at vastly reduced prices.
To speed up the process, the World Health Organization "prequalifies" AMC vaccines in an approval process that slices years off the time it normally takes a vaccine to make it to market.
The first AMC was the pneumococcal vaccine, which made its debut in 2009 with $1.5 billion coming from Norway, Russia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Granted, the United States is notably missing from this list. But that doesn't mean the US didn't contribute to GAVI or the global funding of vaccines, including the pneumococcal. That's because there are three ways to help GAVI:
- Pledges to AMCs
- Long-term pledges to the International Finance Facility for Immunizations (IFFIm), which in turn gives grants to GAVI to purchase vaccines
- Direct contributions to GAVI
But still, that's not enough, GAVI says.
If you count what the US gives through health agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, the total amount that ultimately goes from the US to poor countries for vaccines is staggering. In an update on efforts to increase vaccine availability in Africa, the G8 Summit of 2006 reported:
The United States … has provided nearly 25 percent of Global Polio Eradication Initiative funding; has pledged $362 million for countries to prepare for, detect, and rapidly respond to outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza; has contributed over $1.5 billion over the past 5 years to save the lives of children under age 5 for support for childhood vaccinations and treatment for pneumonia and diarrhea …
… and supports additional work towards a successful launch of an AMC pilot project by the end of the year."
That's in addition to the $15 billion the US promised for HIV/AIDS programs and vaccine research, $1.2 billion to malaria programs and vaccine research, and $90 million in FY 2006 alone for tuberculosis programs and vaccine research.
But it's still not enough, GAVI says.
When you figure in the 2008 law (which President Obama said he helped sponsor as an Illinois senator) that legislates continued GAVI funding through 2013, you're talking billions of dollars funneled from the US to poor nations for vaccines.
But that's not enough for GAVI, either -- or, for Bill Gates who, in testimony at a Senate committee hearing this year, told legislators they should increase GAVI's 2011 funding beyond the $90 million the president asked for.
H.R. 5501 -- Foreign Aid for Malaria, TB, AIDS, and "Other Purposes"
If you read his testimony, it sounds like Mr. Gates isn't aware that the President has already slipped in more funding for GAVI, through that 2008 law I mentioned above, which the president said he helped sponsor.
Better known as the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008, H.R. 5501 requires the US to:
"… participate in negotiations for advance market commitments for the development of future vaccines," and directs the secretary of the treasury to negotiate with world officials, including GAVI, "to establish advanced market commitments to purchase vaccines to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other related infectious diseases."
So, although the US doesn't have its name on the pneumococcal AMC, it does hold a promissory note, in the form of a federal law, on anything coming down the pipeline, such as rotavirus, HPV, malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis (TB), just to name a few.
If that's still not enough for GAVI and Gates, then surely they can take comfort in knowing that this same law changes the nation's TB vaccine fund to "GAVI Fund," and allows the President to allocate unspecified, additional, amounts of money directly to GAVI for TB vaccines.
Are American Children Being Used as Guinea Pigs?
The cost for this, of course, will be borne by taxpayers -- and by American children and those in other developed nations who end up getting the new vaccines, which are primarily meant to help Third World countries.
If you think that's crazy, just look at the vaccines that have come out since GAVI was formed:
- The first AMC, the pneumococcal vaccine, contains 13 pneumonia serotypes. As soon as it was ready in 2009, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended that all US children under age 5 now get this vaccine, instead of the previous 7-valent one.
But why? The old vaccine contained the seven serotypes most commonly found in the US. The new vaccine adds 6 serotypes that are mostly found in Africa, and almost never found in developed nations.
Statistics show that 90 percent of pneumococcal deaths occur in developing countries. So why do American children need this new vaccine – except to help create the high-dollar market that the advance market commitment promises?
- The rotavirus vaccine is the one that GAVI has indicated should be the next AMC. It's also on ACIP's list for US children. But why? According to the CDC, in 1999 when the first rotavirus vaccine was withdrawn for safety issues, only 20 to 40 US children died annually because of rotavirus, compared to more than a half million in developing countries.
So why is the rotavirus vaccine -- which contains deadly pig virus -- recommended for US infants, if not to support the vaccine being sold at low-ball prices in Third World countries under the next AMC?
- HPV (human papillomavirus) statistics show that HPV causes 4,000 deaths from cervical cancer per year in the US, compared to 274,000 worldwide, 88 percent of which are in developing countries.
So why were the HPV vaccines Gardasil and Cervarix -- which have known safety issues -- introduced in the US and Europe, first, instead of going straight to where they're needed most, if not to help sell huge quantities of the vaccine at premium prices, in anticipation of it becoming an AMC?
I think you see the pattern: American children, and those in other developed nations, are basically being used as cash-cow guinea pigs, so that drug companies can smile all the way to the bank while they sell these vaccines later, at reduced prices, to countries that get the money to pay for them from the same countries whose children are being pushed in line to get them first.
At this point you probably don't even want to hear that in the US and Europe, drug companies are doubly rewarded with six-month extensions on their patents when their products are targeted for children, or that additional subsidies in the form of grants pay for the research and development of these vaccines.
But it's true on both counts.
If it sounds like an unending round-robin, it is, with drug companies winning the game in every hand.
Knowing this, I'm sure that you, like me, have no doubts about whose children will be the guinea pigs for the HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other AMC vaccines.
Vaccine Company Admits: Clean Drinking Water is Best Way to Save Lives
As I've said before, true immunity comes from good nutrition, and traditional health measures such as improved sanitation and plain old-fashioned good hygiene.
Even Bill Gates -- who has pledged $10 billion over the next 10 years to research, develop, and deliver vaccines -- has admitted that vaccines alone don't eradicate disease. In a Wall Street Journal article about the resurgence of polio in African countries, Gates said that's why he is revamping his disease fight to incorporate health, hygiene, and clean drinking water programs into vaccination programs.
I was disappointed that Mr. Gates didn't say how much he would be channeling toward important disease-fighters like toilets. But it was encouraging to know that he was finally seeing the light – something that I'm sure didn't go down so well with vaccine makers.
What's really interesting is that at least one major vaccine maker does see the light, as evidenced on the front page of GlaxoSmithKline's presentation to shareholders in June 2010:
"With the exception of clean drinking water, vaccines are the most cost-effective public health measure," GSK said.
Did I read that right? Yes, it's true. And that's why I'm concerned that GAVI seems to be concentrating only on vaccines, rather than distributing some of those billions to what even a vaccine maker admits is the best help of all.
Others Agencies Want More Money Too
It's not like the US isn't contributing to global health. In fact, according to a study commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the US is the top funder of global health in the world. Just with polio alone, the cost of trying to eradicate it through vaccines from 1988 to 2009 was $6 billion, with nearly a quarter of that coming from USAID and the CDC.
But still, for GAVI -- and, apparently, Bill Gates -- it's not enough.
When you consider that the first Global Vaccine Research Forum in June 2000 opened its meeting with an acknowledgement that vaccines were needed because easily treatable diseases had become resistant to inexpensive antibiotics that had been overused, and misused, I can't help but wonder:
What if, just what if, the same amount of money that has been spent on vaccines over the past decade had been spent on sanitation facilities, toilets, and clean water?
Stay tuned, because we both know that the pneumococcal AMC is only the beginning.