Bill and Melinda Gates will commit $10 billion over the next 10 years to help research, develop and deliver vaccines for the world’s poorest countries, in addition to the $4.5 billion which their Foundation has already committed to this area.

Announcing the initiative at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland last Friday (January 27), Mrs Gates said that vaccines are now the Gates Foundation’s “number-one priority” because of the “incredible impact” they have on children’s lives, and Mr Gates added that the next 10 years must be “the decade of vaccines.”

By significantly scaling up the delivery of vaccines in developing countries to 90% coverage - including new vaccines to prevent severe diarrhea and pneumonia - the deaths of some 7.6 million children aged under could be prevented during 2010-19, according to a model used by the Foundation and developed by a consortium led by the Institute of International Programs at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It also suggests that 1.1 million more children could be saved with the rapid introduction of a malaria vaccine beginning in 2014, bringing the total number of potential lives saved to 8.7 million, and even more if additional vaccines are developed and introduced in this decade, for example for tuberculosis.

Mr and Mrs Gates said their pledge was inspired by vaccines’ remarkable progress made in recent years, with global vaccination rates now having reached all-time highs from years of decline in the 1990s, improved routine immunization, an R&D pipeline which is more robust than ever and the introduction of important new vaccines for severe diarrhea and pneumonia, the two leading causes of global child deaths.

They also noted that many of the recent advances in vaccine development and delivery have been driven by public-private partnerships such as the GAVI Alliance (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) and the Rotavirus Vaccine Program at the Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), which coordinates the resources and expertise of vaccine companies, donors, the United Nations’ Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank and developing countries. These partnerships are “transforming the business of vaccines,” said Mr Gates.

Nevertheless, there are still critical financing gaps in both research funding and childhood immunisation programmes, said the Gateses. They emphasised the need for major new funding from donors, governments and the private sector to:- rapidly scale immunisation programmes to reach all those in need; - conduct the laboratory research and clinical trials needed to create new vaccines; - introduce life-saving new vaccines for pneumonia and severe diarrhea, as well as other promising vaccines currently in the development pipeline; and - ensure a steady market for vaccines in developing countries, and an adequate supply from manufacturers.

Commenting on the announcement, WHO director general Margaret Chan said: “the Gates Foundation’s commitment to vaccines is unprecedented, but just a small part of what is needed. It’s absolutely crucial that both governments and the private sector step up efforts to provide life-saving vaccines to children who need them most.”