The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) alliance says new pledges totalling $7.54 billion, with much of it coming just from the UK government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will enable countries to immunise an additional 300 million children and avert up to six million premature deaths.

The Gavi Pledging Conference in Berlin saw the UK make a new pledge of $1.57 billion for 2016 to 2020, while the Gates Foundation promised $1.55 billion. Norway is offering $969 million, the USA $800 million and Germany $720 million.

Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia made pledges to GAVI for the first time, as did China, although it is only putting in $5 million. Ireland is pledging $18 million.

Mr Gates said “we believe in the next 15 years, poor people’s lives will improve faster than any other period in history and that access to vaccines provided by GAVI are critical to making that happen”.

The pledging conference came a day after pharmaceutical companies had made commitments to GAVI, though Pfizer’s offer to cut the price of its pneumococcal vaccine by 6% to help improve access in the world’s poorest countries, was criticised by Médecins Sans Frontières as “tiny”.

However, in an interview with The Guardian, Mr Gates defended the price, saying the vaccine “saves lives for about $1,000 per life saved. So if you are going to do any helping at all, ever build a hospital, ever pay a doctor, you would [be willing to] pay for pneumococcus vaccine”.

He told The Guardian that “this general thing where organisations come out and say, ‘hey, why don’t vaccines cost zero?’ – all that does is that you have some pharma companies that choose never to do medicines for poor countries because they know that this always just becomes a source of criticism.

“So they don’t do any R&D on any product that would help poor countries. Then they’re not criticised at all because they don’t have anything that these people are saying they should price at zero.”