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By: Patrick Tippoo - 23 June 2022

Source: Clinical research photo created by DCStudio -

Accounting for as many as 14% of all childhood deaths under the age of five years, pneumonia remains the single largest infectious cause of death in children globally, with 740,180 children succumbing to the disease in 2019 alone.

As such, immunisation remains the most effective manner in which to prevent pneumonia, with pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCVs) proven effective in reducing pneumococcal disease.

PCVs are key to reducing mortalities

First introduced in South Africa in 2009, early studies on South Africa’s pneumococcal disease burden bear evidence of the efficacy of PCV vaccines. With severe pneumococcal disease in children aged 0-59 months, averaging 107,600 cases per year between 2005 and 2008, this number dramatically declined to an estimated 41,800 between 2012 and 2013.

While several interventions were in place such as HIV-care and prevention initiatives, the introduction of effective PCV medications is likely attributed to this decline.

Advancements in healthcare technologies have allowed vaccines to evolve, and a 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine that has wide coverage against 13 types of pneumonia, was first recommended by the country’s health services in 2011 as a cost-effective means to safeguard against the disease.

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccines save lives and reduce the burden that pneumonia plays on the healthcare system, and according to research, have prevented as many as 175 million cases of the disease and more than 624,000 deaths globally .

The overall South African annual mortality rate for pneumococcal disease in 2012–2013 was estimated at 36 per 100,000 py in children aged 0–59 months, a rate difference of 61 per 100,000 py (63% reduction) compared with the pre-PCV years.

The local manufacture of the vaccine has alleviated South Africa’s dependence on foreign imports and ensured an adequate supply of essential vaccines for the South African people.

Partnering to save lives

Exceptional collaborative efforts between the South African Department of Health and private entities such as the Biovac Institute have been instrumental in supplying as many as 15 million vaccine doses annually to South Africa, including its initial focus of producing pneumococcal conjugate vaccines.

The Cape Town-based institute’s expertise in vaccine development is unwavering, and in recent times, has been a frontrunner in the development of vaccines against Covid-19.

In 2015, the Biovac Institute entered into a partnership with Pfizer to further improve access to essential vaccines by manufacturing an innovative 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in South Africa, replacing the earlier 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine.

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’

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