Cervical cancer vaccine manufacturers commit to supply up to 84 million girls in world’s poorest countries

Five drug manufacturers have committed to boost supply of the HPV vaccine to 84 million girls living in some of the world’s poorest countries.

Vaccine manufacturers MSD, GSK, Innovax, Serum Institute of India and Walvax have pledged to ramp up the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine supply.

The UNICEF commitment aims to enable Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, to dramatically increase its reach from 50 million girls, as initially planned, to 84 million girls during the next five-year period, leading to the prevention of an estimated 1.4 million future deaths from cervical cancer.

Created in 2000, Gavi has helped to vaccinate over 760 million children against some of the world’s deadliest diseases and prevented more than 13 million deaths, helping to halve child mortality in 73 developing countries.

Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, expressed his gratitude to the companies for their support and added: “HPV is one of the most impactful vaccines in the Gavi portfolio, and country demand is currently far in excess of supply. Today’s commitment has the potential to save more lives, and to take significant steps towards our common goal of a world free of cervical cancer,”

Gavi’s initial target to vaccinate 40 million girls between 2016 and 2020 was reduced to 14 million due to increasing global demand for, and limited supply of, the HPV vaccine.

Gavi initially forecasted that only 50 million girls would have access to the vaccine for its 2021–2025 period, however it was identified that 84 million girls could be reached with unconstrained supply.

Currently, only two manufacturers, MSD and GSK, produce WHO-prequalified HPV vaccines.

Several others such as Innovax as well as Serum Institute of India and Walvax are developing HPV vaccines.

Innovax said its dossier has “formally been accepted” for review by WHO and that they are ready to contribute significant volumes next year, while Adar C. Poonawalla, the CEO of Serum Institute of India, believes the vaccine should be available to supply in 2022 at “a substantially lower price than what is available today”.

Yunchun Li, Chairman of Walvax, said he expects the pharmaceutical enterprise to get approved by Chinese regulatory authorities in 2021, followed by an application to WHO for prequalification and that the vaccine will be “affordable”.

UNICEF issued a tender in December 2019 for additional supply of quality-assured, WHO-prequalified vaccines to Gavi-supported countries and Gavi-transitioned countries for 2021 and beyond.

There are currently only two manufacturers who produce WHO-prequalified HPV vaccines, however several others such as Innovax as well as Serum Institute of India are helping to develop HPV vaccines. (Retha Ferguson, Pexels)

Etleva Kadilli, Director of UNICEF’s supply and procurement headquarters said: “This commitment is excellent news for millions of girls, as access to the HPV vaccine can make a difference between life and death.

“Limited vaccine supply has been a great concern for UNICEF, as it often means that the most vulnerable populations are left behind. The increase in production and affordable pricing means that more countries will be able to make this life-saving investment and introduce HPV vaccines into their routine immunisation programmes.”

Cervical cancer is the second-most common form of cancer in women living in less-developed regions. Eighty-five percent of global cervical cancer cases occur in low-income countries and middle-income countries, with sub-Saharan Africa and Asia accounting for the highest incidence rates.

Last year, WHO (World Health Organisation) asked countries to pause vaccinating boys until enough doses were secured for all girls aged between nine and 14.

It is estimated that including boys in the HPV vaccination programme will prevent almost 50,000 non-cervical cancers by 2058, including 3,433 cases of penile cancer and 21,395 cases of head, neck and throat cancer in men.

To date, Gavi has helped 30 countries introduce HPV vaccine demonstration programmes, and 19 have successfully introduced the vaccine nationally.

Roger Connor, President of GSK Global Vaccines said that the work of the Alliance can help safeguard women and girls futures.

He added: “We know that cervical cancer disproportionately impacts women in lower-income countries and that HPV vaccines offer an opportunity later in their life course for adolescent girls to connect with the health system. We look forward to continuing to contribute to Gavi’s objective of reaching another 84 million girls with HPV vaccination in the next 5 years.”

The Vaccine Alliance brings together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private sector partners.

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