The vaccine saving the lives of Pacific children
This week, we marked World Pneumonia Day. Pneumonia is the single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide, and about one-third of all childhood deaths from pneumonia are a result of the pneumococcal bacteria. Sadly, most of the deaths as a result of pneumonia occur in poor children from low and middle-income countries.
These bacteria are commonly carried at the back of our nose and for most of us, we have no symptoms. They spread through contact with people who are healthy, mainly toddlers, who don’t wash their hands. Although most people who carry this bacteria don’t get sick, carriage of pneumococcus is required before it invades and causes serious, often life-threatening, disease.
Many of these deaths are preventable. Although a vaccine has been available for about 18 years to prevent many of these pneumococcal deaths, few countries in the Asia-Pacific region are using it. Often because pneumococcus is hidden - a silent killer. Now, new research from the University of Melbourne has found that vaccination with the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) can make a significant difference to the rates of pneumococcal carriage in these countries – at least for the most common types that are contained within the vaccine which cause most of the disease. And this decline occurs not only for children who receive the vaccine but for the people around them, too.
The research found that, following the introduction of the vaccine in Fiji, fewer people in the community carried the vaccine types of pneumococcus and this decline was in all age groups tested - by about half in infants that are too young to be vaccinated, but also in older children, toddlers and their caregivers.
Read more about measuring vaccine success, monitoring disease spread, and taking the vaccine further here.