Hidden bonus from vaccination

Aug 12, 2014

By Ewen Callaway


This summer, Eritrea, Côte d’Ivoire and Niger will join a growing list of countries where infants receive a vaccine to prevent pneumonia, meningitis and other deadly diseases caused by the pneumococcus bacterium (Streptococcus pneumoniae). Pneumonia is a leading killer of young children in low-income countries; vaccinations from 2010 to the end of this year are estimated to have averted 500,000 deaths, according to the GAVI Alliance in Geneva, an international organization that facilitates vaccination.

Data from South Africa also point to another benefit of vaccination: stemming a rising tide of antibiotic resistance in the developing world. The country’s introduction of a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) in 2009 has not only reduced the overall incidence of invasive pneumococcal disease by about two-thirds in infants (the age group vaccinated) and in adults, but has also reduced penicillin-resistant infections in both groups.

This is the first time such benefits have been observed outside the developed world. The data should spur public-health officials in low-income countries that have not yet adopted the vaccine to start using it, says Anne von Gottberg, a clinical microbiologist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg and leader of the study (see ‘Protecting children’). Her group has reported the results at conferences but they have not yet been published.

The problem of antibiotic resistance is particularly stark in low-income countries, where over-prescription and poor regulation combine with a higher disease burden and poor sanitation to increase the use of anti­microbial drugs. A recent survey by the World Health Organization found rates of resistance in Klebsiella pneumoniae as high as 54%. Reduced susceptibility of Streptococcus pneumoniae to penicillin was found worldwide, and topped 50% in some reports.

In North America, Europe and other well-off parts of the world, the introduction of pneumococcal vaccines in the early 2000s reduced cases of invasive pneumococcal disease by more than one-third in vaccinated children and in unvaccinated adults, who typically acquire infections from children. The vaccine also reduced the numbers of serious pneumococcal infections that were resistant to front-line antibiotics such as penicillin.

2 comments on “Hidden bonus from vaccination

  • Hi Agrajag,

    Three points – if I may make so bold:

    The story is not about politics, it’s about vaccines and vaccination.

    The story is about vaccines that just work. Anti-vaxers ignore many vaccinations because there is no story to follow. This is the case with vaccinations that prevent pneumonia (I just did a ten minute search and found no anti-vaxer responses to pneumonia vaccination). There is no credible dissenting voice, so they say nothing about it. Rather, as with conspiracy theorists everywhere, they extrapolate from a story on one point to taint other areas by association. There’s no smoke coming out of that pneumonia car – but the vaccination road is still on fire.

    The story is also about the extra medical benefits of vaccination. Anti-vaxers have no response to this. Their groups are made up of people who focus on individual cases – they confuse anecdote with evidence.

    It is not a good counter-argument should I, inconceivably, ever come across an anti-vaxer. The anit-vaxer will be ‘immunised’ from the full effect of the argument that this story presents by their faulty thinking. Of course, as a ‘immunised’ group they also display herd immunisation characteristics! Once out of my hearing, the anti-vaxer I met will recover quickly and fail to pass on the ‘fact infection’.

    Better to make an intervention by asking how they know what they know. All those doctors who are happy with the later trials and studies that refuted a link between MMR and autism. All those doctors who are more interested in our ever-increasing understanding of the causes of autism – none of which includes vaccination.

    Did the World’s millions of doctors really ALL spend the majority of their youth studying just so that they could take the pharmaceutical check? Or are a significant number more interested in helping people?

    To whom should we give our most valuable asset – our attention?

    Anti-vaxers are to be pitied because they consistently get the answer to that question wrong. We should help.


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