MSF rejects free vaccines – why?

A PHS 795 student came across an interesting blog post at Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders):

Why Médecins Sans Frontières rejected Pfizer’s 1 Million Free Pneumonia Vaccine

It is quite stunning how Pfizer offered 1 million free vaccine to MSF but it rejected every one of it. But, why?????? Apparently, these doctors are well-awared of the fact that there is no free lunch in reality and that the price will be on the rest of the world–who make purchase of the vaccines. As most of you would agree, it is never an easy decision to prioritize one over another in public health. Of course there is no right or wrong but it sure leads to the ultimate question of who should live (instead of whom). MSF does have a fair point in that free vaccine will lead to higher price which is looking ahead to the future; while there are countless people dying at this very moment.

In the meantime, I would like to point out what Gavi, an international organization – a global Vaccine Alliance created in 2000, does in this context. There has been a set of global efforts involving various stakeholders, in the name of Gavi, that brings together public and private sectors with the shared goal of creating equal access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries. (Yeah, it’s from the website…..) Besides providing vaccines to the needed, it works closely with pharmaceutical industry to provide vaccines more quickly and at prices far lower than in developed countries. (Check out their website if interested:

Instead of a report from the media, I am suggesting the blog posting by Jason Cone, the Executive Director of MSF in the U.S. where he gave a thorough reason to the rejection.


3 thoughts on “MSF rejects free vaccines – why?

  1. I think this is a great response by MSF! First off I want to say that I think so highly of MSF and everything they stand for and are working to accomplish. MSF is an organization that I hope to be a part of after my medical training.

    In his response, Jason Cone makes an excellent and very realistic point. By accepting a donation, MSF is going against all the work they have done to lower vaccine costs worldwide. Ultimately, the goal is for pharmaceutical companies to lower the cost of vaccines. I really like the way that Mr. Cone’s explained the impact of what accepting the donation would be. Had MSF accepted the donation, they would be benefiting from the elevated vaccine price that others are paying. The pharmaceutical company is able to make a $1million donation because of the profit returns from other organizations and countries purchasing the vaccines. A donation is a short term fix and MSF wants sustainable solutions.

    Mr. Cone is reinforcing MSF’s argument that in order for global health to be improved the price of the pneumonia vaccine and vaccines in general, need to be lowered. Pfizer is trying to hide behind their high vaccine price by offering the donation, which they use as a tax right off. Unfortunately, this can make MSF look like the “bad party” in this situation, but Mr. Cone’s words are defiant. Essentially, he is throwing the donation back at Pfizer and saying, “If you really want to help, lower the cost of vaccines for all and not just who you deem worthy.”


  2. Great article!
    I agree with MSF turning down the one million free vaccines. What will giving a free million vaccine accomplish other than making Pfizer lots of money in the long run. They get to still keep their sky rocketing prices on the vaccine as well as incur tax breaks for giving “charity “. Jason Cone made a difficult but necessary decision. According to him, after years of negotiating with Pfizer to lower their prices, that’s all they could offer. He also made the case for donations not really helping, nor are they sustainable solutions for lowering vaccine prices.
    These are complex issues that don’t really have easy answers. This is just like “ aid” given to countries in Africa. There usually are strings attached that most of the population aren’t’ aware off. According to research, donations of food, clothing or other items often have negative impact on the local economy. These seemly well-intentioned donations of food, clothing or other items can only provide a band-aid solution to alleviate temporary suffering. It shouldn’t be a long-term solution or a norm.
    Here is a link to reference about aid in African countries.


  3. This is the type of headline that is so easy for people to run away with and villainize an organization that is trying only to do good, while casting positive light on Pfizer, a company that notoriously holds prices artificially high. “MSF turns down 1 million child pneumonia vaccines donated from Pfizer”. It’s so simple to read that and not understand the true consequences. I think the blog post does an excellent job of explaining the decision that MSF took in this instance. Accepting donations creates quick positive PR for drug companies while ignoring the issue of total price control. MSF’s point that accepting the donation would only give Pfizer a large tax write off while undermining long-term negotiations shows that this donation isn’t even made with public good in mind, but is simply another self-serving, profit generating PR move, when what we really need is real change.


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