New pneumococcal vaccine offers added protection

At least one child dies every minute from a disease which is almost completely preventable with a simple vaccine, and primary healthcare clinics have a vital role to play in preventing the scourge.

This was the message from Dr Ashley Wewege, Consultant Paediatrician and Director of National Paediatric Management Group (PMG), speaking to nursing sisters at the fifth annual Clicks Pharmacy Conference, held in Cape Town in August.

The conference, with the theme 'Pharmaceutical Care Excellence: Let's just do it!' was the largest annual event of its kind on the African continent. It was attended by over 400 delegates, including Clicks pharmacists, their assistants and nursing practitioners and dignitaries from the Department of Health, SA Pharmacy Council and the SA Pharmaceutical Students Federation.

Pneumococcal kills 900,000 children every year

"Close to 900,000 children under the age of five years die of pneumococcal disease every year," he said. "It is a disease which is the leading killer of children worldwide, and as is so often the case, the greatest burden of disease is borne in sub-Saharan Africa. Sadly, the few that survive are left with lifelong learning problems."

Although 75-80% of childhood pneumococcal pneumonias are non-bacteraemic and non-invasive, it is the 20-25% that also have bacteraemia (bacteria in the blood) that are the most dangerous. This is known as invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD).

New vaccine effective

It is no surprise that when a vaccine was developed at the turn of the century, it was greeted with huge relief. Earlier versions of the vaccine proved very effective, but did not contain the most common serotypes found in Asia and Africa.

In the more than 10 years since the vaccine was developed, more than 300 million doses have been distributed. The impact has been huge, and there are also well-documented indirect effects of childhood vaccination, such as a 92% drop in pneumococcal disease in the elderly.

The clinic sisters were told that the vaccine currently in use at Clicks pharmacies is Prevenar 13, which covers an additional six serotypes. These six together account for close to 40% of IPD. Prevenar 13 is the only pneumococcal vaccine which includes serotypes 3, 6a and 19a. Significantly, the vaccine has been found to induce high average antibody levels.

Minor side effects

"Although the vaccine does cause tenderness at the injection site and/or fever in around 30% of children, it is a relatively minor side effect," Wewege said.

He assured the sisters that children who had been vaccinated with the earlier version could very safely receive their booster with Prevenar13, which would provide them with the extra immunity they need.

"And don't wait to vaccinate," he said. "It doesn't matter if the child has a runny nose; if they have been brought to the clinic, then do the vaccination."

In the future, the parents may also receive a Prevenar13 vaccination alongside their children. Prevenar13 has already been approved for use on adults in Colombia, Thailand and the Philippines. - (Health24, August 2011)

- Press release issued by Draft FCB Redline on behalf of Clicks

Read more:
Pneumococcal disease vaccine launched

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