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Wider use of vaccines urged to protect kids

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Some 4 million people, mostly children, die needlessly every year because countries don't vaccinate enough of their youngest citizens, says a new report that tracks a global effort to increase immunizations in the poorest nations.

The Children's Vaccine Initiative urges wider use of common vaccines that cost pennies to a dollar a dose and says another 2 million lives could be saved annually by just two new vaccines under development - if they're sold quickly and affordably to the poorest countries."We are at the start of an explosion of important new vaccines that can be used to protect children," said Roy Widdus, coordinator of the Children's Vaccine Initiative. "Now one of the things that's desperately needed is to convince all governments that vaccines are . . . the best investment a country can make for health."

Some 80 percent of the world's children are routinely vaccinated against polio, diphtheria and five other killers, programs that save 3 million lives a year.

But vaccines that have revolutionized health care in wealthy countries are not used widely enough in developing nations, said the group, formed by UNICEF and other international organizations.

Price is the first problem. The vaccine against liver-destroying hepatitis B, for example, began selling in wealthy countries in 1986. But only last year did the vaccine initiative negotiate a deal to sell the $30 shot to the neediest countries for $1 a dose.

Governments also must recognize the need to vaccinate. Southeast Asia, for example, argues it doesn't need immunization against Haemophilus influenza B, or Hib, which causes childhood meningitis and pneumonia. Members of the initiative, believing infections are high, just funded Korean researchers to study the problem's scope.

A similar study in Gambia uncovered that Hib causes three times more of the country's childhood pneumonia than previously believed, persuading the African nation to vaccinate, Widdus said.

The group reported Sunday that too many vaccines are under-utilized.