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Millions more children in developing countries may be able to receive a major combination vaccine, thanks to a drop in prices.

The GAVI Alliance, a public/private health partnership, made the announcement Wednesday in Hanoi regarding the pentavalentvaccine.  It helps protect against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B, as well as against Hib, bacteria that cause meningitis and pneumonia.

"The pentavalent vaccine is really a miracle of science.  It contains five vaccines in one," says GAVI Alliance spokesman Jeffrey Rowland.

In the last few years, the price for a single vaccine dose has dropped from $3.65 to $2.94.

"Now that may not sound like a huge price drop, but," he says, "that means we've been able to accrue $55 million in savings." 

The savings will be used to immunize an extra six million children, in addition to the more than 256 million in 70 countries already vaccinated, Rowland says.

The GAVI effect

Rowland says, "The reason that the price has been declining is because the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) has been purchasing massive quantities of this vaccine for poor countries.  And because of that demand we have created from vaccine producers, more and more companies have entered the market, creating competition," he says.

Competition drives prices down.  But that competition is relatively new.

"What's happened over the last 10 years is that vaccine makers will not produce enough vaccines for poor countries because there's not a market.  Obviously poor countries cannot afford these vaccines," he says.

Making it work for both sides

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"We've said to countries that we will help fund these vaccines for them," he says, "and we'vesaid to manufacturers that we will purchase the vaccine."

That created a market for the vaccine manufacturers. 

"More companies have actually stepped into the market and said, oh, there's actually some money to be made here," he says. "Companies start competing against each other."

Ten years after the creation of the GAVI alliance, vaccine makers have sprung up in countries like India and Brazil.

"More than 86 percent of vaccines that are produced now are produced and provided by companies that are in emerging markets," he says.  "And so now, those companies can produce these vaccines for a cheaper  price.  They compete against some of the big players out there and naturally the price goes down."

The GAVI Alliance was created nearly 10 years ago with support from the Bill and Melinda gates Foundation.  The partnership includes UNICEF, World Health Organization, World Bank, NGOs and government donors.  

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