Medecins Sans Frontieres volunteers and supporters drop flowers into an empty baby crib in front of Pfizer's global headquarters in New York April 27, 2016, in this handout photo provided by Medecins Sans Frontieres. Photo: Edwin Torres/Medecins Sans Frontieres/Handout via Reuters
Global charity Medecins Sans Frontieres delivered a petition with hundreds of thousands of signatures to pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc on Wednesday, asking the drugmaker to slash the price of its pneumonia vaccine for poor children.
Supporters of a proposal to cut the vaccine price to $5 U.S. per needy child took their petition, and a baby's crib covered with signatures, to the company's New York City headquarters on the eve of its annual shareholder meeting.
They made the same request of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which also makes a vaccine to prevent pneumonia.
Pneumonia killed some 920,000 children globally last year, according to United Nations data, and many regions of the world cannot afford to vaccinate children against the acute respiratory infection, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said.
Fifty-five nations, including Pakistan, Kenya and Myanmar, currently can obtain pneumonia vaccines at cut-rate prices through a public-private partnership called the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).
Those prices are about $10 U.S. for the Pfizer vaccine, which comes in three doses, and about $9 for a vaccine made by GSK.
But MSF and supporters want those prices cut roughly by half in all developing nations and for humanitarian groups.
"Millions of babies and young kids around the world are left unprotected against pneumonia because Pfizer and GSK charge such high prices for the pneumonia vaccine," said Greg Elder, a MSF spokesman, in a statement.
In response, Pfizer said producing its pneumonia vaccine, Prevenar 13, is costly and time-consuming.
Every dose takes two and a half years to be produced, the company told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We continue to help address humanitarian crises through donations of Prevenar 13 to humanitarian organizations," the company said.
A dose of Prevenar 13 costs $159 on the U.S. private market, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
GlaxoSmithKline also said developing its pneumonia shot, Synflorix, involved extensive labor and money.
"Synflorix is one of the most complex we've ever manufactured, essentially combining ten vaccines in one and requiring significant upfront capital investment," it said in a statement.
Both companies said they make large quantities of the vaccines available at discounted prices through GAVI.
According to the World Health Organization, pneumonia accounts for 15 percent of all deaths of children under 5 years old.
Delivering the petition to Pfizer's midtown Manhattan building, protesters of its prices laid out 2,500 flowers they said symbolized the children dying of pneumonia each day.
Overall, the cost of vaccinating a child in the poorest countries has been rising and is 68 times higher than it was in 2001, according to the MSF.
Last month, MSF formally opposed Pfizer's application for a patent of its pneumonia vaccine in India.
Poor countries and medical charities depend on Indian companies to make cheaper forms of drugs and vaccines, but with an Indian patent for Prevenar 13, those firms would not be able to produce affordable versions, MSF said.