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Major New Vaccine Initiative to Save Millions of Children

Paul Tearle/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Rotavirus, pneumonia, meningitis and other childhood illnesses claim the lives of 1.7 million children annually -- almost all of them in developing countries.  Countless other children survive, but suffer from stunting, malnourishment and other chronic illnesses.

On Tuesday, GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership of the world’s main players in immunization, announced a $3.4 billion investment over the next four years in vaccinations against childhood diseases in 37 countries.  Two dozen of the participating countries are in Africa.

“Our goal,” said GAVI CEO Dr. Seth Berkley, ” is to make sure that where a child is born doesn’t influence their right to have access to these modern miracles of medicine.”

Of the 37 countries that will participate in the program, about half plan to introduce pneumococcal vaccines, the other half will introduce rotavirus vaccines.

“We are targeting the two largest killers of children in the world,” said Berkley, at the GAVI announcement Tuesday morning, via a web conference for media.

Rotavirus alone kills more than 500,000 children a year and about half of those are from African countries.

Some of the countries participating in the GAVI program will also receive vaccinations for measles, meningitis A, and the pentavalent vaccine, which inoculates against five diseases simultaneously: iphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, and flu.

The vaccines will be supplied by Merck & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline at a deep discount.

The target cost of the vaccine preventing pneumonia, for example, will cost GAVI $3.50 at most.  The same vaccine in the U.S. costs $90. Other pharmaceutical companies will be incentivized to participate in the supply chain as the program expands over the next four years.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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