Fact Check: Merck Will Be Shipping RotaTeq to China Not to West Africa

Is Merck Backing Out of a Vaccine Promise?

Mostly true

Merck, Inc. announced that it would be scaling back by 33 percent its rotavirus vaccine shipments to parts of Africa. 

Additionally, Merck said it will be increasing product shipments to China, where the rotavirus vaccine would reportedly be sold for a higher price. 

According to NPR, Merck plans to sell RotaTeq in China for potentially around $40 per dose, compared with $3.50 per dose in Africa.

Merck said in an email to NPR that "supply constraints" were preventing them from fulfilling their agreement to certain West African countries. 

As a result of Merck's decision, more than a half-million children in West Africa may not receive the RotaTeq rotavirus vaccine in 2018 and 2019, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance told NPR. 

"This is deeply disappointing news and in the short term will mean that children are likely to miss out on this lifesaving vaccine, leaving them vulnerable to this horrific disease," Gavi's CEO, Dr. Seth Berkley said in a statement to NPR. 

In a conference held on November 1, 2018, Merck’s CEO Ken Frazier maintained the drug maker did not “pull out” of the agreement to supply the West African countries, reported Stat News.

“What happened, with respect to rotavirus vaccine, over the last few years, there has been an unprecedented rise in the demand for vaccines.” 

“And so, we have a temporary problem right now, where the demand outstrips the supply,” said Frazier. 

Separately, Holly Fernandez Lynch, JD, a professor in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “Being a for-profit business, they don’t have a legally enforceable obligation to be philanthropic.” 

“From an ethical perspective, you shouldn’t make two promises you can’t keep.” 

“Their statements about allocations just aren’t clear. But if a company makes a promise they’re backing out on, that’s a concern,” said Lynch.