Doctors without Vaccines

Recently, Doctors Without Borders made headlines when they turned down an offer from the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer for one million doses of the pneumonia vaccine.

I’d like to take a moment in my series about this charity organization to discuss why they made this decision, which seems so contrary to their professed mission statement, and what it is about this decision that makes me, a concern citizen living in a first world country, more enthusiastic about supporting Doctors Without Borders.

Doctors Without Borders helps people worldwide, wherever the need is greatest, delivering emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare. The purpose of the organization is to reach people who are beyond the reach of their country’s normal infrastructure, or those living in countries without the infrastructure to help them. Their goal is to keep people healthy, regardless of race or creed, and they do so to great effect all across the globe. I’ve been studying their impact for a few months now, and I know I can’t even begin to describe their historical impact. They have truly changed the world for so many people that would otherwise have been forgotten by the “modern” world.

Vaccines are a crucial part of the healthcare such an organization provides. In 2014 alone, over six hundred thousand people were administered the measles vaccine by Doctors Without Borders. They are not strangers to the good these treatments do for those who might otherwise die, often to sickness we in more privileged society have long since forgotten about or treat easily. So why not accept this donation from Pfizer? Pneumonia, while typically not fatal in the United States and the rest of the Western world, is a major killer in many of the world’s most poverty stricken regions. In 2015 alone, over nine hundred thousand children under the age of five lost their battle with the sickness.

Doctors Without Borders does not accept donations of any kind from companies they find have principles or practices directly in conflict with the humanitarian effort of aiding and healing people around the world. A crucial part of their mission is maintaining a high level of integrity.

Some of these companies are easy enough to understand. Weapon manufacturers, for example, are on the blacklist. No matter your opinion of weapons large or small, it’s easy to understand why a medical organization would not accept donations from such a company.

However, Pfizer is another company they do not accept donations from, monetary or otherwise. Doctors Without Borders sees the prices and the practices of pharmaceutical companies, who manufacture a great deal of the medicines and machines the charity uses to aid people each and every day, to be directly in conflict with their humanitarian mission. The prices they see as inflated, and the practices of profiteering off the misfortune of poor regions during outbreaks and disasters has caused DWB to put their foot down. But that’s not the only reason they rejected the vaccines.

In a letter written by Doctors Without Borders’ very own Executive Director Jason Cone, an argument is made that might get lost in the outrage and confusion over his decision not to accept the pneumonia doses: there’s no such thing as free vaccines.

There’s no such thing as free vaccines.

The pharmaceutical companies may well donate these doses now and help a great many people through Doctors Without Borders. However, this immediate aid comes at a cost. Down the road, when Pfizer’s prices for these and other life saving medicines are challenged, they could easily argue that the donations they’ve made force them to up-charge in order to maintain their profit margin, and very few people have the convictions to challenge charitable giving.

Doctors Without Borders does, and this has won from me a tremendous amount of respect. In my opinion, for an organization as large and responsible for so many lives to take such a principled stance under the scrutiny of the world… It’s beyond words.

Please consider donating to Doctors Without Borders. Every contribution helps, and just because they didn’t accept the donation from Pfizer doesn’t mean they don’t steal need to distribute vaccines to people in need across the Earth. And please keep exploring my project, where I detail my faith in Doctors Without Borders and where it comes from, and address the concept of charitable giving as a whole. Visit my website to find my podcast, the Millennial Mindset, or to find my video in which I interview a collection of young people who aren’t sure how to help the millions in need around the world, just like I wasn’t sure at the start of all this.