SEATTLE (AP) _ The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is giving $750 million over five years to help protect poor children around the world against disease, the couple announced Tuesday.

The contribution was the foundation's largest annual gift. The $1 billion Gates Millennium Scholars Program announced in September is being established with annual $50 million gifts over 20 years.

The latest donation from the billionaire Microsoft chairman and his wife will help create the Global Fund for Children's Vaccines, which is to begin operating in six to eight months.

About 4 million children in developing countries die every year of illnesses that could be prevented if they received timely vaccinations, the foundation said in a news release.

``Melinda and I are committed to ensuring that every child has access to lifesaving vaccines in the next millennium, regardless of where they live,'' Gates said.

The fund will work closely with a new international coalition, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, a partnership of international development and finance organizations including UNICEF and the World Health Organization, philanthropic groups, the pharmaceutical industry and others.

Besides buying vaccines, the alliance will use the fund to encourage governments, businesses and individuals to provide the money needed to make global childhood immunization a reality.

The fund also will support research to develop vaccines for AIDS, malaria and other diseases for which they are not now available.

The global alliance partners include the Bill and Melinda Gates Vaccine Program, which the Gateses founded last year with a $100 million contribution to speed distribution of vaccines to the poorest parts of the world.

The Gates foundation's focus is helping improve lives through health and learning.

The Gateses recently consolidated two family foundations into one fund. It has assets of slightly more than $17 billion and has given away approximately $2.5 billion, including the donation announced Tuesday.