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Last Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006, 22:30 GMT 23:30 UK
Child jab wait 'threatens lives'
By Nick Triggle
BBC News health reporter

Doctors and the government are in talks over how to fund the jab
Children's lives will be put at risk because a vaccine for a potentially lethal disease is not being introduced this summer, campaigners have said.

Doctors and ministers have not agreed how to fund the jab for pneumococcal disease, which causes blood poisoning, meningitis and pneumonia.

The BBC News website has learnt the vaccination programme is not expected to start until the end of the year.

But campaigners warned that could be too late for the winter peak in cases.

If we don't get this in place soon we risk missing out on cover for this winter
Linda Glennie
Meningitis Research Foundation

Pneumococcal disease affects 400 children each year, killing 50 and leaving many more severely disabled by causing blood poisoning, meningitis and pneumonia.

The vaccine was introduced in the US five years ago but had been delayed in the UK because of concerns over its cost.

The government announced in February that it was going to become part of the childhood vaccination programme.

Children will be given a dose at two months, one at four months and a booster after their first birthday.

But despite the announcement, the government and the doctors' union, the British Medical Association, have still not reached an agreement on how it will be introduced and funded.

Doctors 'surprised'

A meeting was held last month and more are planned during the summer to thrash out the details.

The jab costs 34.50 a shot, more than all the other childhood vaccines put together.

Dr Peter Holden, part of the BMA team negotiating with the Department of Health, said doctors had been taken by surprise by the February statement.

"No-one had consulted with us before this was announced. These things have to be done properly. It needs to be included in our contract and the proper funds be made available," he said.

"We have not reached an agreement yet, that is not to say there is a problem, but I would say we are looking at the end of the year at the earliest."

Privately the government has been saying the programme would be introduced in the summer, although ministers never committed themselves to this in public.

Most vaccines are introduced during the summer to make sure people are fully immunised in time for the winter months.

Linda Glennie, of the Meningitis Research Foundation, said: "If we don't get this in place soon we risk missing out on cover for this winter. That would risk not saving lives, it is very worrying. We have to get a deal on this."

The government said it would not comment on the negotiations with doctors.

A spokeswoman added: "When we announced the decision to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine to the childhood immunisation programme, we said very clearly it would be introduced in 2006/07, and that is precisely what we intend to do."

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