A federal advisory body has approved a new vaccine to protect young children against illnesses such as bronchitis, ear infections and meningitis.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization directs provinces on what vaccines should be covered by provincial medicare plans. It wants provincial health plans to cover the cost of immunizing children with Prevnar.

The committee says Prevnar is effective in battling a group of diseases caused by Streptococcus pneumonia pneumonia, bacteremia (infection of the blood), bronchitis, ear and sinus infections and pneumococcal meningitis.

Prevnar is costly: as high as $360 for the required three shots and a booster.

The costs of immunizing 400,000 children across Canada could top $100 million.

Dr. Victor Marchessault, chairman of the committee, says the cost is outweighed by the benefits: the healthcare system saves $6 for every $1 spent on vaccines.

He says ear infections are the top reason for doctor visits by children under five. The vaccine would also cut the need for surgery to insert ear tubes in children with chronic ear infections.

Every year in Canada:

  • 65 children under five develop meningitis
  • 700 develop bacteremia
  • 2,200 are hospitalized with pneumonia

The committee is encouraging the provinces to cover the cost of immunization. Marchessault worries families that cannot afford it will be at a disadvantage.

"This really is a two-tier system that we have now with vaccines...people with insurance or with money can get them."