April 22, 2009 / 4:39 PM / 10 years ago

TB, pneumonia vaccines launched in Africa

WASHINGTON, April 22 (Reuters) - Vaccines against two big killers — tuberculosis and pneumonia — were launched among African children on Wednesday, both backed jointly by drugmakers and groups set up specifically to promote vaccination.

Children in Rwanda lined up on Wednesday to get Wyeth’s WYE.N Prevnar vaccine, which is sold as Prevenar in Europe. Prevnar, which protects against the seven most common strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae, is a routine childhood jab in developed countries.

“With the introduction of this vaccine, our goal of significantly reducing child death in Rwanda will now be within reach,” Rwandan health minister Dr. Richard Sezibera said in a statement.

Wyeth donated 3 million doses of vaccine for the program, organized in part by the non-profit GAVI Alliance and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“If fully rolled out in GAVI countries, the pneumococcal vaccine could save the lives of more than 440,000 children by 2015,” said Dr. Julian Lob-Levyt, chief executive officer of the Geneva-based GAVI Alliance.

Pneumococcal disease kills 1.6 million people a year, mostly children under 5.

In South Africa, an experimental tuberculosis vaccine started a phase IIb trial, meant to show “proof-of-concept” — that the theory behind the vaccine works.

The non-profit Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation, working with Oxford University, Britain’s Wellcome Trust and the University of Cape Town, will vaccinate 2,784 babies who also received the current TB BCG vaccine.

BCG is a bacterial-based vaccine that dates back to the 1920s and helps prime the immune system against TB. It does not work very well and the new vaccine, based on a smallpox immunization, is designed to boost the effects.

Oxford researchers are working with Emergent BioSolutions (EBS.N) of Rockville, Maryland, to make the vaccine.

Tuberculosis kills 1.8 million people a year and infects more than 2 billion.

“The world desperately needs new and better approaches to combat TB,” Dr. Marcos Espinal, executive secretary of the Stop TB Partnership, said in a statement.

“The advancement of a new TB vaccine candidate to this stage is an exciting development for all of us who seek to end this terrible epidemic.” (Reporting by Maggie Fox)

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