Making the Case for Cost-Effectiveness of Vaccines for Global Health

As part of a series of vaccine-focused briefings, Research!America, the Global Health Council and PATH hosted a Capitol Hill briefing today on the cost effectiveness of vaccines.

The briefing was moderated by Eileen Quinn of PATH. Panelists included Lewellys Barker, MD, senior medical adviser at Aeras; Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute; and Marc LaForce, MD, director of the Meningitis Vaccine Project at PATH.

All three panelists work for or with product development partnerships (PDPs), which are nonprofit organizations with missions to research, develop and foster access to new health technologies that target diseases disproportionately affecting impoverished populations and developing countries.

The panelists showcased how each partnership collaborates with public and private sector partners to develop and deliver vaccines against common killers like pneumonia, meningitis, tuberculosis. This research saves lives, improves health and provides hope for families in the U.S. and worldwide.

LaForce shared a case study of Burkina Faso, an impoverished country in sub-Saharan Africa where MVP implemented a targeted meningitis vaccination plan. Over 1 million vaccines were administered per day to virtually one hundred percent of the country’s one to 29-year-olds. As a result, the number of reported meningitis cases are at an all-time low in the country. The success in Burkina Faso can be used as a model in other countries: Introducing the vaccine in seven other endemic countries could save $350 million and 140,000 lives over a decade.

Barker hopes that a new tuberculosis vaccine could meet with similar success. Although a TB vaccine already exists, it doesn’t provide lifelong protection against the disease. A better TB vaccine is needed, and progress is being made on that front: when Aeras began in 1999, there were no new TB vaccines in development; now there are roughly 11 in the research and development pipeline.

Malaria and TB are two of the world’s most devastating diseases, but there is also a critical need for vaccines against neglected tropical diseases that are endemic in impoverished populations, such as hookworm, snail fever and leprosy. These diseases, Hotez said, are often called “poverty promoting diseases.”

“Wherever you find poverty, you find neglected tropical diseases — including in the U.S.,” Hotez said. These diseases, he continued, could provide opportunities for additional partnerships and teach important global health lessons that can be applied in the U.S.

During the Q&A session, a key point emerged: It’s not just about vaccines, it’s about vaccination. The focus must not only be on development but also on on efficient administration of vaccines to people in need, such as the successful, rapid vaccination efforts in Burkina Faso — which requires global health research and adequate funding.

“There are enormous costs to these diseases running unchecked,” Quinn said, “And we have a solution in vaccines, which are cost effective and relatively easy to administer.”

However, this solution is not possible without adequate funding. A recent analysis in Health Affairs showed that increasing vaccination in 72 countries over the next decade would prevent 6.4 million deaths and circumvent $6.2 billion in treatment costs.

The Global Health Council is a Research!America member.

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