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Gates Boosts Vaccine Program

It was a shot in the arm for the world's richest man.

Even though his work as Microsoft Corp. chairman was under scrutiny in Washington Wednesday, Bill Gates' philanthropy was widely praised in Manhattan.

Gates announced that he and his wife, Melinda, are giving $100 million to support immunization programs for children in developing countries.

"If we could just save one child, it would be worth it. But we can save millions," said UNICEF head Carol Bellamy at a press conference with the Gates couple.

Bellamy said 12 million children worldwide die every year from preventable causes. Children in poor countries sometimes wait up to 15 years for basic innoculations, health officials say.

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"Bill and Melinda Gates' donation may well equate to the single largest individual donation for children's health in this century," said Dr. Gordon Perkin, president of the Seattle-based Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, which will administer the money through groups like UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports that most children worldwide have access to vaccines against tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and measles. The Gates money will be used to set up programs to immunize children with relatively new vaccines for hepatitis B, which causes liver disease; homophilus influenza B, a cause of childhood meningitis; streptococcus pneumonia, which causes ear infections and deadly respiratory illness; and rotavirus, which causes life-threatening diarrhea.

The last two vaccines are so new that they are not yet given to children in the United States. Dr. Mark Kane, WHO's vaccine expert, said they will soon be routine here.

Bill and Melinda Gates said they became interested in world health after visiting developing countries three or four years ago. "Our program has a simple goal - to make vaccines you and I take for granted available to children regardless of where they live," he said.

Skeptics question the timing of the gifts, coming as Gates is embroiled in a bitter battle with the federal government over anti-trust charges. Others wonder why he waited until now to take on humanitarian causes.

Asked about the timing of the donation in light of the ongoing antitrust case being brought by the U.S. Justice Department against Microsoft, Gates said:

"The children's vaccine thing has a wonderful logic of its own. In the meantime I have a full-time job, a very exciting job, running Microsoft with all the challenges, including the technological challenges and the legal challenge. Although Microsoft has provided the wealth to do this, I don't see this as being related in any way."

He added: "There's always going to be things going on in the Microsoft world ... I can't wait until that world calms down. You want to get this done as soon as possible."

Gates is believed to be the world's richest person with an estimated wealth of $60 billion. Figures from Forbes magazine reveal his wealth has increased by about $40 million a day over the last year.

Eugene Miller of the Center for Philanthropy in New York says philanthropists are often criticized for giving, and cited Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller as examples.

"I think there is resentment; there is a great deal of anger that gets targeted at the philanthropist based on certain inequalities in the system that are inevitable," Miller said.

Asked about criticism that he has not given away enough of his money, Gates said: "Every year you'll see us doing more. The wealth is something we want to give back to society in as smart ways as we can ... We're still fairly young and I'm sure people can look at this in any way they choose."

He says he plans to give his money away carefully. "It's important to make sure you give your money away with the same intelligence as you earn money because otherwise you can just waste it and not have a impact."

The Gateses have established two foundations with a combined endowment of about $2 billion. One supplies libraries with computer technology. The other, which is funding the vaccine program, has previously granted up to $2 million to health-related programs.