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MSF challenges Pfizer’s monopoly on lifesaving pneumonia vaccine in South Korea

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NEW YORK/SEOUL— Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has filed a legal petition to the Supreme Court of South Korea requesting to review the patent granted to US pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer for its pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). On 29 November 2017, the Patent Court of Korea upheld the patent granted to Pfizer for its PCV13 vaccine. Unmerited patents like this are a barrier for people, governments, and treatment providers like MSF trying to protect children against pneumonia—a disease that kills almost one million kids every year.

The action before the Supreme Court of South Korea is the latest in a global fight to overturn Pfizer’s unmerited patents on PCV13 and increase competition worldwide by allowing manufacturers to develop and market more affordable vaccines. This would pave the way to protecting more children from this deadly disease. MSF began challenging Pfizer’s unmerited patent in Korea last year after the same patent was revoked by the European Patent Office. Pfizer’s patent is also being legally challenged in India.

High-priced pneumonia vaccines and the lack of global competition are a significant part of why it is now 68 times more expensive to vaccinate a child with the full package of WHO-recommended vaccines than in 2001. In fact, high prices charged by the only two companies that produce the vaccine are largely the reason why approximately one-third of countries have not been able to introduce the pneumonia vaccine in their standard vaccination package and protect their children from a deadly but preventable disease. Many countries currently rely on Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, for financial support in vaccinating their children, though more than 20 countries worldwide—and millions of children—are scheduled to lose their eligibility for this funding in the next several years.

“Doctors and nurses at MSF see each and every day the effects of high-priced pneumonia vaccines and the needless deaths that result from excessive profits taking precedent over public health,” said MSF-Korea General Director Thierry Coppens. “South Korea is well-positioned to produce affordable and quality pneumonia vaccines that could save the lives of vulnerable children all over the world, however Pfizer’s patent and global monopoly stands in the way of other vaccine developers that want to make and sell more affordable vaccines.”

Allowing multiple manufacturers to make and sell pneumonia vaccines would make it possible for more countries and treatment providers like MSF to secure affordable vaccines.

“In our work, we see many children with life-threatening respiratory infections; many deaths could be prevented if more kids were vaccinated with PCV,” said Dr. Anas Shorman, a paediatrician working for MSF in Jordan. “More than 50 countries have spoken out against high vaccine prices, and children in countries like Indonesia, Jordan, and Tunisia simply can’t wait any longer to get access to the lifesaving pneumonia vaccine.”

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Press Release 20 November 2017