Plan to fight meningitis, pneumonia A vaccine that helps prevent an infection that causes meningitis and a serious form of pneumonia is likely to be offered to all newborns in Hong Kong in a HK$100 million programme under government consideration. The World Health Organisation-recommended vaccine can protect people against infections caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. A medical source said a University of Hong Kong study commissioned by the Centre for Health Protection confirmed the benefits of the PCV-7 vaccine. 'It is estimated the [cost of] adding the vaccine to the citywide immunisation programme would be about HK$100 million a year for all newborn babies,' the source said. 'The government hasn't made a decision, probably because it is still considering the money matter. It is quite certain the government will recommend children get the vaccine. The problem is whether the government or people will pay the bill.' Paediatrician Daniel Chiu Cheung-shing said infection by Streptococcus pneumoniae - it can cause diseases including pneumococcal pneumonia and meningitis - was quite common in Hong Kong. According to government statistics, the incidence of invasive pneumococcal diseases in Hong Kong is 2.3 per 100,000 people, while the annual incidence of invasive meningococcal infections is between 0.03 and 0.21 per 100,000 people. Worldwide, the WHO estimates pneumococcal diseases kill 700,000 to a million children under five every year. Dr Chiu said children under two were most at risk of infection. 'The most worrying is meningitis, which can cause death in two days after infection or lifelong impairment to the patients' vision and hearing,' he said. The source said the price that the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine manufacturer, Wyeth, offered to private doctors was about HK$500 per shot, and it recommended three or four shots per child. Assuming about 50,000 babies are born in Hong Kong each year, the cost would be between HK$75 million and HK$100 million. 'If the government buys the vaccine in bulk, it can probably bargain. But adding on expenses like manpower and promotional campaigns, the cost will be about HK$100 million,' the source said. A spokeswoman for Wyeth Hong Kong said the company had been working closely with the centre's scientific committee on vaccine preventable diseases to discuss the cost-effectiveness of PCV-7 but had not submitted a plan to the centre yet. University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung said many countries had added the vaccine to the national immunisation programme, especially after the WHO recommended doing so in March. The vaccine, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2000, has been registered in more than 70 countries and by January had become part of the national immunisation programme in a dozen countries, including the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada. 'It would be best if the government could provide the vaccine for free ... to effectively lower the number of pneumococcal diseases, the coverage rate should be over 90 per cent,' Dr Ho said. A spokeswoman for the Centre for Health Protection said the cost-effectiveness of incorporating new vaccines in the childhood immunisation programme was still being studied.