WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than 100 professional medical societies, institutions and organizations from around the world join the Pneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts (PACE) today to urge governments, donors and industry to assure access to pneumococcal vaccines for every person who needs them worldwide. Their unified Call to Action comes as research released today confirms that available vaccines are not reaching countries in greatest need. As countries around the world consider including pneumococcal vaccine in their national immunization programs, PACE recognizes Rwanda’s groundbreaking efforts to introduce the vaccine in Africa and encourages others to make the same commitment.

“Pneumococcal disease takes the lives of 1.6 million people each year—including more than 800,000 children under age 5—making it a leading infectious killer worldwide,” said Dr. Ciro A. de Quadros, executive vice president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and co-chair of PACE, who has led successful efforts to eradicate polio and measles from the Western Hemisphere during his 40-year medical career. “These deaths are unacceptable and unnecessary because effective vaccines are currently available.”

Research released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) illustrates that 24 of the 26 countries that routinely protect their children with pneumococcal vaccines are high-income countries that represent less than 1 percent of the worldwide burden of this devastating disease. By contrast, none of the world’s low-income countries routinely vaccinate against pneumococcal disease.

“Pneumococcal disease is found all over the globe, but all too often strikes those who are young, poor and least equipped to fight it,” said Matthew Moore, medical epidemiologist at the CDC. “While optimal diagnosis and management of pneumococcal disease saves lives, many children and adults do not have access to this care. Implementing effective vaccination programs is an important strategy for preventing this disease.”

Historically, the cost to purchase and deliver pneumococcal vaccines has been an obstacle to their introduction. However, global immunization funding could be as much as $8 billion for new vaccines and immunization systems during the next 10 years with the advent of the International Finance Facility for Immunizations and the Advance Market Commitment. And as the result of collaborative efforts by WHO, UNICEF, the GAVI Alliance, academia, foundations, industry and developing country governments, PneumoADIP estimates that developing countries are now able to introduce pneumococcal vaccines at least 10 years faster than historical precedents.

“Together we call on governments internationally to take advantage of this progress in health care and ensure life-saving pneumococcal vaccines are available to the people who need it most,” said Orin Levine, executive director of the GAVI Alliance’s PneumoADIP project at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and co-chair of PACE. “We must take action. We have the vaccines, the technology, the financing and the demand to prevent this disease. The price of action will be measured in dollars. The price of inaction will be measured in child deaths that could have been prevented.”

Pneumococcal vaccines are urgently needed in Africa. Rwanda has the second highest risk of pneumococcal mortality in the world and one of the strongest immunization programs in Africa. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the government of Rwanda and GAVI, the Rwanda Ministry of Health expects to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine into its national immunization program in January 2009. This will make Rwanda one of the first two countries in Africa to vaccinate its children routinely against pneumococcal disease. In recognition of these efforts, the Rwanda Ministry of Health will be presented with the 2008 PACE Global Leadership Award today at an event in Washington, D.C.

“We applaud PACE and its partners for their efforts to raise awareness and urge others in our region to take advantage of new opportunities to protect their people from this disease,” said Michael Rukata from the Embassy of Rwanda in the United States. “Together, we can save millions of lives.”

Pneumococcal disease, a bacterial infection that causes pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis and other life-threatening ailments, kills 1.6 million people globally each year, half of whom are children under the age of 5. Survivors of pneumococcal meningitis can be left with serious disabilities and developmental delays.

Safe and effective vaccines currently exist to prevent pneumococcal deaths in children and adults. In 2000, a new 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7) became available and is currently licensed in more than 90 countries. Since U.S. infants began receiving routine pneumococcal conjugate vaccination in 2000, the country has nearly eliminated childhood pneumococcal disease caused by strains in the vaccine.

It is estimated that with increased awareness and a resulting commitment to purchase and deliver pneumococcal vaccines globally, more than 7 million lives can be saved by 2030. Currently, 10- and 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine formulations are in late stages of development. These conjugate vaccines are expected to prevent 50 percent - 80 percent of all serious pneumococcal infections worldwide and become available in 2009.

To view a complete list of professional medical societies, institutions and organizations that have joined PACE in issuing a Global Call to Action on Pneumococcal Disease Prevention, visit: https://www.sabin.org/programs/pace/supportingsocieties.html

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 policymakers 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, visit www.sabin.org/PACE.

The Sabin Vaccine Institute is a non-profit public organization dedicated to saving lives by stimulating the development and distribution of vaccines throughout the world. The Institute is committed to continuing the work of Dr. Albert Sabin, developer of the oral live virus polio vaccine, who envisioned the enormous potential of vaccines to prevent deadly diseases. To learn more, visit www.sabin.org.