Global Vaccine Campaign Urged

Millions of deaths in developing countries could be avoided each year if new and underused vaccines were added to the world's existing immunization programs. That's the message of a report released yesterday by the Geneva-based Children's Vaccine Initiative (CVI), an international group focused on immunization research and policy.

The push for action comes after a period of "stagnation" in global immunization, say CVI officials. Since 1990, when health agencies reached their goal of providing 80% of the world's children with six vaccines--against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, and tuberculosis--little progress has been made, says Roy Widdus, coordinator of CVI. While CVI's new plan offers no simple solution to the political and economic obstacles facing vaccine programs, it emphasizes the need for a "mix of new approaches" integrated into a single, comprehensive program, says John LaMontagne, a National Institutes of Health vaccine researcher and chair of the CVI task force that put together the new plan.

The CVI plan suggests 20 diseases to target, estimates that it would cost more than $4 billion to deliver available vaccines, recommends improvements in existing vaccines, and sets a schedule for introducing new vaccines. While the plan calls on developing nations to absorb the full cost of expanding vaccinations, it also suggests that global aid organizations help out those with the greatest need. The plan urges the wealthy countries to work with companies to get new vaccines quickly into wide use, ensure adequate supplies, and provide discounts to the poorest nations by lowering the cost per dose from several dollars to several cents.

Armin Fidler, a senior health specialist with the World Bank, hopes that the report will send a powerful message to its intended audience of health and finance ministers: "We need to hammer it into the minds of policy-makers" that vaccine programs "are the most cost-effective interventions we have."