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Merck to stop providing vaccine in Africa

A Merck flag flies underneath the American flag.
Photo: Kena Betancur/Getty Images

Merck “is ending a long-term agreement to supply a lifesaving vaccine for children in West Africa,” NPR reports. “At the same time, the company has started sending the vaccine to China, where it will likely be sold for a much higher price.”

Merck has been supplying a vaccine for rotavirus, which kills about 200,000 children per year, as part of a long-term agreement with UNICEF and Gavi, a public-private partnership that provides vaccines in low-income countries.

  • But the company plans to scale back its West African supply by a third this year and next, and then stop delivering it entirely in 2020.
  • As a result, according to NPR, more than 500,000 kids will go without the vaccine in 2019 and as many as 2 million won’t have it in 2020.

Details: Merck sold its rotavirus vaccine to Gavi for $3.50 per dose in Africa. It costs $70 per dose in the U.S.

  • GlaxoSmithKline also sells a rotavirus vaccine, which it sells to Gavi for $2.25 per dose. But it’s not planning to expand its supplies to make up for Merck’s exit.
  • 2 more vaccines are also in the pipeline, but are still several years away from actually being available in West Africa.
  • Analysts told NPR it’s not clear how much more money Merck stands to make in the Chinese market, but rotavirus is a big problem there, too.
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