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New vaccines proposed in five-year plan

Three new vaccines with the potential to significantly reduce infectious disease have been highlighted by Government public health advisers.

Unveiling a five-year plan last week, the Health Protection Agency revealed it would be advising the Department of Health on the introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine into the childhood immunisation schedule and the chicken pox (varicella) vaccine for non-immune health workers. Its advice would be based on epidemiological need and cost-effectiveness, a spokes-man said.

The HPA said it would explore the need for vaccinating against viral hepatitis, including hepatitis A and B, either universally or in select groups such as injecting drug users.

Dr Mary Ramsay, consultant epidemiologist at the immunisation division of the HPA, said introducing the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine would reduce the number of deaths from meningitis in just a few years.

Pneumococcal meningitis tends to occur in infants under one year old and more than 20 per cent of all children who acquire the infection die.

Infection with streptococcus pneumoniae accounted for 38 per cent of deaths from bacterial meningitis in 2000, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Dr Ramsay said in the August issue of Archives of Disease in Childhood that conjugate vaccines against the main serotypes of pneumococcal meningitis were offered only to high-risk children. She said: 'The wider use of conjugate vaccines against pneumococcal infection has the potential to reduce the number of cases of invasive pneumococcal disease, including meningitis, within a few years of implementation.'

HPA chief executive Dr Pat Troop said the agency was working hard to develop vaccines against meningitis B and tuberculosis. She said the convention of being vaccinated as a child had now changed to a 'lifelong programme' because of international travel and immunisations for the elderly.

Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation spokesman and a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, said: 'As we shall soon be vaccinating our elderly patients with the polysaccharide pneumococcal vaccine we should seriously consider adding the conjugate vaccine to our childhood immunisation programme.

'Only then do we have a chance of considerably reducing the burden of pneumococcal infection.'

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