At the same time that the globe is dealing with an “unprecedented” number of lethal outbreaks, the producer of one of the two cholera vaccines available for use in humanitarian crises plans to stop production at the end of this year.
Health officials are alarmed by Shantha Biotechnics’ announcement that it will stop producing its Shanchol vaccine within months and stop providing it by the end of 2023. Shantha Biotechnics is a completely controlled Indian subsidiary of the French pharmaceutical business Sanofi.
Shantha’s decision to suspend production, according to Philippe Barboza, the World Health Organization’s team leader for cholera, came despite numerous requests from Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO.
“To say the least, it’s a very disappointing strategy,” according to Barboza.
Shanchol is one of only two oral cholera vaccines that can be utilised in a global emergency stockpile for both preventive vaccination campaigns and countries fighting outbreaks. It comprised around 15% of the doses in the stockpile this year.
The WHO estimates that cholera kills up to 143,000 people yearly in the world’s poorest nations, where access to clean water and minimal sanitary facilities is still inequitable. Currently, outbreaks are being fought in Haiti, Syria, Lebanon, Nigeria, Malawi, and Ethiopia, among other nations.
According to a Sanofi representative, the decision to discontinue production of the vaccine was made in October 2020, and as “a responsible partner,” Sanofi “informed global health organizations and cholera stakeholders three years before supply discontinuation.”
The spokesperson further added “We took this decision in a context where we were already producing very small volumes versus the total demand for cholera vaccines and in the knowledge that other cholera vaccine manufacturers (current and new entrants) had already announced an increased supply capacity in the years to come.
“The production of Shanchol will stop at the end of this year. Supply will be discontinued next year. Additionally, in the interests of the global cholera programme, we entered into an agreement with our public health partners to complete a transfer of knowledge related to the manufacture of Shanchol.”
The spread of cholera, Tedros warned last week, had been “turbocharged” by the climate catastrophe, and people’s access to clean water had been further compromised by extreme weather events like floods, cyclones, and droughts.
The average death rate from the disease, which this year, according to statistics from the WHO, was nearly three times the rate of the previous five years, was of special worry, he said.