The pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., Inc. is ending a 6-year agreement to supply a life-saving vaccine for children in West Africa.
At the same time, the company has started sending the vaccine to China, where it will likely be sold for a much higher price.
The vaccine is for a deadly form of diarrhea, called rotavirus, which kills about 200,000 young children and babies each year.
Merck’s decision means it will fall short of its commitment to supply its rotavirus vaccine, RotaTeq, to four low-income countries in 2018 and 2019, according to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. By 2020, the company will completely stop delivering its vaccine,
“This was difficult decision for us, which did not come lightly,” Merck wrote to NPR in an email. “We would like to express our deepest regret to all of the parties involved and have offered to assist and work with UNICEF, Gavi and affected countries through the transition to alternative images [versions] of rotavirus vaccines,” the email added.
Merck said in the email that “supply constraints” were preventing them from fulfilling their agreement to the West African countries.