This new vaccine is groundbreaking for a lot of reasons. Pneumonia kills 500,000 children a year. Vaccinating for pneumonia will save a lot of lives, especially in kids under five. In addition, the bacteria that causes pneumonia also causes certain kinds of meningitis, so children will be protected from those as well.
The vaccine is also remarkable for the speed with which it has been introduced. The pneumonia vaccine was developed for the wealthy world, and basically useless in the developing world because it was designed for the wrong strains of bacteria. GAVI’s Advance Market Commitment Program provided an incentive for drug manufacturers to optimize the vaccine for the developing world, and they did — with impressive speed.
I hope this is just the beginning of a new era of vaccine development. We also saw the introduction of the anti-meningitis MenAfriVac this year, which protects against the most virulent strains of meningitis. It was the result of a remarkable public-private collaboration.
Next on my vaccine wishlist would be widespread introduction of the vaccine against rotavirus. There are two licensed for use, and both have the backing of the World Health Organization. Rotavirus causes deadly childhood diarrhea – 1.5 million children a year are killed by it. It could be used already in the developing world, but needs substantial funding and support to make it happen.
The widespread introduction of the pneumonia vaccine is huge achievement. Let’s hope it is also the sign of a renewed focus on vaccines and the fight against preventable diseases.