The UK Government has updated the child immunisation program to include routine vaccination with Wyeth’s Prevanar, the world’s first and only pneumococcal conjugate vaccine.

Pneumococcal infection can cause serious illnesses such as meningitis and septicaemia, which kill up to 50 children under two a year in the UK and leave hundreds more disabled.

Explaining the reasons behind the move, Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson remarked: "We have already seen the immense impact this programme has had in the US. Since its introduction, cases in young children caused by the strains in the vaccine have fallen by 94%, and cases in the over 65s have dropped by two thirds.”

And Philip Kirby, Chief Executive of the Meningitis Trust, stated: "Vaccination is the only way to prevent meningitis and we welcome this announcement as it will help save lives. Pneumococcal meningitis is a devastating disease - 20% of those who get it will die and a further 25% will suffer severe after-effects."

Around 650,000 babies born every year in the UK will qualify for the vaccine, which will be given in three doses, at two, four and thirteen months of age. As well as helping to save lives, the incorporation of the vaccine into the immunisation program should help reduce the burden of less serious pneumococcal-related problems, such as mild pneumonia and ear infections, on the National Health Service.

But some parents will undoubtedly by worried about the effects of giving children multiple jabs, particularly in light of the never-ending debate over whether the triple measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is linked to autism.

In other changes to the vaccination programme, jabs at three and four months and a booster at 12 months for meningitis C will replace the current jabs at two, three and four months, while an extra booster for Haemophilus influenzae type b (hib) infection will also be added at the age of 12 months. UK drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline has welcomed the move, especially since its Hib/MenC combination vaccine, Menitorix, has been selected to fulfil the Department of Health’s requirements for the new immunisation schedule.

Commenting on the changes, Donaldson said: "Immunisation is the best way to protect children from serious disease and the routine childhood programme has been extremely effective in achieving this. The changes set out today will further improve the programme and benefit children."