Scientists urge increased access to pneumococcal conjugate vaccines for children in war zones

Scientists at an international pneumococcal conference in Melbourne, the ISPPD Symposium, urged international agencies to provide a new class of pneumococcal vaccines to children in acute humanitarian emergencies, such as war zones and refugee camps.

Children in such settings are at extreme risk of pneumonia, yet very few will have had access to pneumococcal conjugate vaccines. WHO recommends this vaccine for all children in infancy, but in emergency settings older children are at risk and consideration is now being given to vaccination of all children in such settings. WHO is working with manufacturers and international non-government organizations to facilitate this.

At the meeting this week 1200 of the world’s leading scientists, public health officials and physicians also discussed the latest research in the field and ongoing problems with the control of pneumococcal disease, as the current vaccines only prevent a fraction of childhood cases and the number of adults with pneumococcal pneumonia seems to be increasing in some settings.

The meeting focused on an important class of vaccines against the pneumococcus, known as the conjugate vaccines, developed over the past 30 years by the scientific community.

MCRI Senior Research Fellow and Co-chair of the conference Professor Kim Mulholland said, “These vaccines are said to have prevented about half a million child deaths in the world’s poorest countries, yet this is only a fraction of the number of children who are dying of pneumonia in the world. The conjugate vaccines have been licensed for 18 years, yet only 42% of children in the world currently have access to these important vaccines. This is not good enough.”

The pneumococcus is the leading cause of pneumonia death in the world. In all countries that have significant child mortality, the largest cause of death after the first month of life is pneumonia, most caused by the pneumococcus.

The Melbourne-based scientists from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, who were the meeting chairs, are a leading international group and presented 40 separate research papers. In addition the co-chair of the meeting, Prof Kim Mulholland, delivered the Robert Austrian lecture, the keynote speech of the meeting.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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