Suggestions that Wyeth’s pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar will not be added into routine immunisation programmes in the UK until the end of the year have been met with consternation by child health campaigners.

A report from the BBC suggests that, because the UK Department of Health has not reached agreement with doctors about how the vaccinations should be funded, the start date has been set back from this summer. The DH first announced that it planned to include the vaccine in the routine child immunisation programme in February.

The DH has only ever said publicly that it plans to introduce the vaccine in ‘2006/07’, but the report claims that the programme was due to start in the middle of this year.

Three years after the routine use of Prevnar started in the USA, there has been a 94% reduction in invasive pneumococcal disease caused by the disease serotypes included in the vaccine, according to Wyeth.

This suggests that even a short delay in making Prevnar more widely available in the UK could have consequences for the 400 or so children who develop pneumococcal disease every year. Around 50 die as a result, and roughly a hundred more will be left with after-effects, including disability.

The Meningitis Research Foundation wants the programme to be in place this summer so that children will be protected in time for the winter months.

The British Medical Association claims to have been wrong-footed by the DH’s February announcement, saying that the issue of how the vaccine will be funded still has to be addressed.

European governments were criticised in an article in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, published in April, for failing to move ahead quickly with adding the vaccine into immunisation protocols.

The authors said that an assessment in August 2005 showed that most EU countries - including Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Finland, the UK, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Portugal and Sweden - were still not offering universal national or regional pneumococcal immunisations, while Austria and France provided the most comprehensive guidelines for vaccinating at-risk groups.

Meanwhile, the alleged delay in the UK comes days after an editorial in The Lancet issued a plea to make Prevnar available more widely to children in the developing world, through the negotiation of affordable pricing for the vaccine.

The article was authored by a group of experts headed by Orin Levine, executive director of PneumoADIP, a non-governmental organisation that aims to shorten the time between the use of a vaccine in industrialized countries and its introduction in the developing world.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about 1.6 million people, including up to one million children under five years old, die every year of pneumococcal pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis. In populations with high child mortality rates, pneumonia is the leading infectious cause of mortality and accounts for about 20-25% of all child deaths.