Pneumonia vaccine saves 500,000 lives in world’s poorest countries

Dr Harish Madhava

Editorial Board

November 16th, 2017

Dr Harish Madhava
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‘The rollout of pneumonia vaccine has prevented the deaths of over half a million children in developing countries over the past decade’

Since 2007, 109 million children have received pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), which protects against the leading cause of pneumonia, with the support of Gavi, the vaccine alliance.

Gavi is a public-private partnership committed to increasing equitable use of vaccines in lower-income countries. The Alliance brings together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private sector partners. 

Vaccination coverage in Gavi-supported countries has now reached 41%, up from 35% in 2015 and almost equalling the global average of 42%.

“Hundreds of thousands of children in the world’s poorest countries are alive today thanks to pneumococcal vaccine,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi. “I’m immensely proud of the role Gavi has played in expanding access to this lifesaver over the past ten years, but millions of children remain unprotected. This is an entirely preventable, treatable disease that still takes the lives of more children than any other illness, causing untold needless suffering. We cannot afford to lose focus in the fight against pneumonia.”

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the launch of the Advance Market Commitment (AMC) – a pledge to use a much-needed vaccine if developed by researchers.

Children in the poorest countries typically received newly developed vaccines more than a decade later than children in the richest countries. With help from the AMC developing countries began to introduce the latest formulations of PCV as soon as a year after they were first made available. 

Funded by Italy, UK, Canada, Russia, Norway and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this unique financing mechanism has allowed eligible countries to access affordable PCV vaccines at a cost of less than 10% of the US market price. Gavi has now helped 58 countries across Africa and Asia to introduce the vaccine into their routine immunisation programmes.

However, pneumonia remains the biggest killer of children under 5 worldwide, killing more than malaria, diarrhoea and measles combined. Nearly one million children, more than 80% of which are under two years old, die from the disease every year. PCV, Hib and measles vaccines are some of the most effective ways to prevent the disease.