Image copyright rmliziana Image caption Shifa Syed with her brother Hafeez while she was still in her primary school education in Bangladesh
A young American girl with a life-threatening illness has been saved by a novel vaccine for pneumococcal pneumonia.
Children between five and 11 years old who had limited immunity after getting a DPT vaccine were told to get the oral version.
This new version of the vaccine protects against the bacterium that causes pneumonia – bacillus but aureus – and a second respiratory virus called enterovirus 71.
The results of the study in girls aged 5 to 11 were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
In it, 4,171 children who were already vaccinated against pneumococcal disease had their pneumococcal bacteria and enterovirus 71 bacteria removed.
They then became the first children to receive the oral version of the vaccine, which is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for the American and Canadian markets.
The vaccine was designed by a US government-funded trial from 2008 to 2010 called the HPV/PPK pneumococcal project (HPV/PPK). It followed children who had fallen ill with the disease between the ages of 15 and 19.
To test the new vaccine, children were given the oral vaccine in six doses three months apart, from the age of five.
A vaccine for small children
A few thousand small children have a still-health due to the pneumococcal disease they contracted as children and could be protected against if they had been vaccinated earlier, Dr Laura Walensky, chief executive of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the BBC.
“We really started developing a vaccine that could be effective for small children,” Dr Walensky said.
Unlike other antibiotics that people can get when they are older, a pneumococcal infection – like pneumonia – can stay in the body for the lifetime, meaning the need for antibiotics in childhood is less frequent.
Dr Walensky added: “In the US we have started to see an improvement in infectious disease. Children were diagnosed earlier, sicker more often.”
The vaccine has been developed by GSK – which has been developing it for over 20 years – in collaboration with the American and Canadian governments.
The results showed that oral doses of the vaccine were more effective than the DPT (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) type two vaccine and were administered sooner to the children.
After the six-month course of vaccines in the study, the children were identified as negative for pneumococcal disease and did not re-enter the study to see whether the positive phase of the disease had returned.
The infants being vaccinated today can go on to be vaccinated again as the bacteria are typically passed from mother to child.
Dr Walensky said developing the oral vaccine required the collaboration of many players.
“We have a team here at the CDC who manufacture this vaccine, we have a team of experts in Australia who make the vaccine, we have a team here in Canada who manufacture the vaccine for the Canadian market and then we have Pfizer making the vaccine for the US market,” she said.
She continued: “We’ve looked at other bacteria that would actually help protect children who have been vaccinated against pneumococcal disease, for example clostridium difficile bacteria [a food-borne infection often carried by hospital patients].”
Once the vaccine becomes established in the US, Dr Walensky expects the availability of the vaccine to be a benefit to the healthcare system.
“For one, it’s affordable for the American taxpayers because it’s a vaccination program,” she said.
“We’re hoping that when the vaccine is available in 2020 it will help both doctors and parents who want to make sure their children are protected from pneumococcal disease.”