Reykjavik, Iceland – Nearly 1,000 of the world’s leading experts on infectious diseases and vaccines are meeting during the 6th International Symposium on Pneumococci and Pneumococcal Diseases (ISPPD-6) this week to call for renewed and urgent action by governments to protect their citizens against pneumococcal disease, a leading killer of children and adults worldwide.

A bacterial infection that causes pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis and other life-threatening ailments, pneumococcal disease kills 1.6 million people — including more than 800,000 children under age five — each year. Pneumococcal disease is vaccine-preventable, and estimates indicate that if implemented globally, pneumococcal vaccines could save the lives of 5.5 million by 2030.

“Safe, effective vaccines exist to prevent pneumococcal disease, and improved ones are expected in 2009,” said Dr. Orin Levine, executive director of GAVI’s PneumoADIP and co-chairman of the Pneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts (PACE). “Recent advances in funding and delivery mechanisms have created an unprecedented opportunity for nations to fight this disease. We have the scientific knowledge and financial resources. What we need now is political will as the price of inaction will be measured in lives lost unnecessarily.”

Leading health experts gathered for ISPPD-6, led by the Pneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts (PACE), issued a global call to action urging governments to take steps to make financing available to assure access to pneumococcal vaccines. The call to action also expresses support for the expansion of health systems to deliver the vaccines and surveillance systems to monitor vaccine impact. To date, 40 professional societies worldwide have signed on to support PACE’s efforts to ensure that vaccines are available to children globally at affordable and sustainable prices.

“By bringing NGOs, scientists, industry and health and financial decision makers at the country level together to make pneumococcal disease prevention a priority, our goal is to help save millions of lives,” said Dr. Ciro de Quadros, executive vice president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and co-chairman of PACE. “We encourage all parties involved to make the global commitments necessary to prevent this deadly disease.” Kenya is one country represented at the Symposium that is currently working toward universal coverage through its vaccination program.

“In Kenya alone, we lose more than 20,000 children under age five each year to pneumococcal disease,” said Dr. Fred Were, national chairman of the Kenya Paediatric Association and member of PACE. “Estimates show that current and future vaccines could potentially prevent 50 to 80 percent of these deaths. I’m proud that Kenya has made the decision to introduce this vaccine and to protect the lives and health of Kenyan children.”

Since 2000, pneumococcal vaccines have been available to safely and effectively protect children and adults against pneumococcal infections. In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that the pneumococcal vaccine be introduced into national childhood immunization programs around the world. Thanks to technologic advances from the vaccine industry and global funding commitments from donors and foundations, countries now have the unprecedented opportunity to protect their children from this deadly but preventable disease.

The 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV-7) currently is in use in more than 70 countries. Since infants in the United States began receiving routine pneumococcal conjugate vaccination in 2000, the country has nearly eliminated childhood pneumococcal disease caused by vaccine serotypes.

“Millions of lives can be saved through the routine introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine in developing countries,” said Dr. Thomas Cherian, Coordinator of the World Health Organization’s Expanded Programme on Immunization. “The World Health Organization recommends that countries at all income levels introduce this vaccine, with the highest priority given to countries with high child mortality rates.”

Expanded protection pneumococcal conjugate vaccines, currently in the late stages of development by GSK and Wyeth, are expected to be licensed by 2009. Work is also underway on the next generation of pneumococcal vaccines. PATH, Genocea, and Children’s Hospital Boston recently announced a partnership to develop a protein-subunit pneumococcal vaccine for use in the developing world. Genocea’s antigen discovery platform technology, a breakthrough in the understanding of cellular immunology, could help identify potential new vaccines in the fight against pneumococcus.

“The time is now for prevention,” said Dr. Ingileif Jonsdottir, chair of the ISPPD-6 Icelandic Organizing Committee. “We have the vaccines, the technology, the financing mechanisms and the demand to prevent this disease. It is time for governments to take advantage of these innovations and bring them to the people who need them most.” ISPPD-6 is an international symposium that brings together leading experts from around the world to share best practices and innovations in fighting pneumococci and pneumococcal diseases. This year’s attendance is nearly double that of ISPPD-5, which took place in Australia in 2006, representing the largest-ever convening of experts around this deadly disease and demonstrating its growing importance on the global health agenda.

PneumoADIP is a dedicated team of experts and specialists based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health supported by a $30 million grant from the GAVI Alliance (GAVI). PneumoADIP’s mission is to improve child survival and health by accelerating the evaluation of and access to, new life-saving pneumococcal vaccines for the world’s children. To learn more, please visitwww.preventpneumo.org.

PATH, an international, nonprofit organization, creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions that enable communities worldwide to break longstanding cycles of poor health. By collaborating with diverse public- and private sector partners, we help provide appropriate health technologies and vital strategies that change the way people think and act. Our work improves global health and well-being. To learn more, please visit www.path.org. Sabin Vaccine Institute is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to reducing human suffering from infectious and neglected diseases by providing greater access to vaccines and essential medicines and through programs of vaccine research, development and advocacy. To learn more, please visit www.Sabin.org.

The Pneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts (PACE), a project of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, is comprised of leading global experts in infectious diseases and vaccines. The Council raises awareness among policy makers and aims to secure global commitments to prevent pneumococcal disease, a leading infectious killer of children and adults worldwide. The Council works through collaboration and partnership with countries, NGOs, academia and industry to achieve its goals. To learn more, please visit www.Sabin.org/PACE.