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For First Time, Unicef Reveals Differences in Prices It Pays Drug Companies for Vaccines

The United Nations Children’s Fund on Friday publicly listed for the first time the price it pays for vaccines.

The decision — which immediately revealed wide disparities in what vaccine makers charge — could lead to drastic cuts in prices for vaccines that save millions of children’s lives.

Unicef paid $747 million for vaccines last year, buying over two billion doses for 58 percent of the world’s children.

Newer procurement agencies like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria routinely reveal what they pay for drugs. But vaccines — shots or drops that prevent disease — have been largely exempt because Unicef has avoided confrontation with its suppliers, posting only the average prices it pays; and donors had not demanded more details.

Shanelle Hall, director of Unicef’s supply division and the driving force behind the new transparency policy, said she hoped to extend it to other goods that Unicef buys, including mosquito nets, diagnostic kits, essential medicines and ready-to-eat foods for starving children.

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders, which successfully pressed for lower AIDS drug prices in Africa a decade ago and has campaigned for the public posting of vaccine prices, declared the move a victory.

“This is going to make a huge difference,” said Daniel Berman, deputy director of the charity’s global access campaign. “As soon as the donors see the differentials, they’re going to insist that Unicef and GAVI get better prices.” GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, collects billions of dollars from donors to help Unicef pay for vaccines.

Mr. Berman recently quit a GAVI committee to protest its resistance to revealing prices. Officials of several pharmaceutical companies sit on GAVI boards.

GAVI dragged its feet until Unicef forced the issue, he said.

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