Vaccine development worldwide is booming, more vaccines are now available against deadly diseases than ever before and levels of infant immunisation have reached record levels, at 106 million last year, says a new report from world health experts.

At least 120 vaccines, an unprecedented number, are now available, says the report, which is published by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the World Bank. In the last few years, scientists in academia and at pharmaceutical companies, many in public-private partnerships, have developed new life-saving vaccines for meningococcal meningitis, rotavirus diarrhea, pneumococcal disease and human papillomavirus (HPV). In addition, over 80 new products are in late-stage clinical testing, including more than 30 that target diseases for which no vaccine currently exists. At the same time, a significant number of vaccine candidates, including ones targeting diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and dengue, are moving through the research pipeline, it notes.

Moreover, the global vaccine market has tripled over the last eight years to reach revenues of more than US$17 billion, fuelled by growing demand via United Nations (UN) procurement agencies and a renaissance in vaccine discovery and development. Significantly, manufacturers in developing countries are now meeting 86% of the global demand for traditional vaccines, such as those against measles, whooping cough (pertussis), tetanus and diphtheria, says the report.

However, life-saving vaccines which are now common in wealthy countries still do not reach an estimated 24 million children who are most at risk, say the authors, and they call at least $1 billion per year to be spent to ensure that new and existing vaccines are delivered to all children in the 72 poorest countries.

"We have seen a dramatic turnaround in the availability of vaccines in even the poorest countries," said Graeme Wheeler, managing director at World Bank Group. "Yet the international community, together with the countries themselves, must ensure that new and existing technologies actually reach the most vulnerable populations, especially children."

The reversal in recent years of the downward trend in global immunisation rates has been due in great part to the efforts of developing countries, which have made good use of support from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) - a vaccine-financing partnership that includes WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since 2000, this has increased the introduction of new and underused vaccines, which now reach more than 200 million children in developing countries.

But increasingly, the cost of delivering vaccines to those in need is only partially solved by financing partnerships such as GAVI. Middle income countries are not eligible for GAVI assistance, yet they are home to 30 million children and 2 billion people, many of whom live on less than $2 a day. Even at greatly reduced prices, the cost of new vaccines for pneumococcal disease, rotavirus diarrhea and HPV are individually greater than the cost of all other traditional vaccines combined, the report notes.

“Worldwide measles deaths fell by 74% between 2000 and 2007, and vaccinations played an important part in that decline. Such progress must inspire new efforts to immunize children around the globe against life-threatening diseases,” said UNICEF executive director Ann Veneman.

“The influenza pandemic draws attention to the promise and dynamism of vaccine development today,” added WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan. “Yet it reminds us once again of the obstacles to bringing the benefits of science to people in the poorest nations. We must overcome the divide that separates rich from poor - between those who get life-saving vaccines, and those who don’t,” she added.

- The global H1N1 2009 influenza vaccine market will be worth $7,028 billion by 2011, having risen at a compound annual growth rate of 222.4% from 2009 to 2011, forecasts a new report from Markets and Markets.