Research shows new vaccine 'highly effective'

International researchers, including University of Otago Prof Philip Hill, have shown a new-generation vaccine has more than halved the incidence of a disease which kills many children in Africa.

The research project, on pneumococcal disease, has received more than $10 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, established by American businessman and philanthropist Bill Gates.

Prof Hill is co-director of the university's Centre for International Health, and, previously, was the initial leader of the African research project, guiding its establishment.

The study monitored a population of 200,000 people in The Gambia, West Africa, before and after the vaccine, known as a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, began being used.

Pneumococcal bacteria cause pneumonia, blood poisoning and meningitis across the world.

The research findings were recently published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Prof Hill said these new-generation vaccines were designed to be effective in young children, but had limitations, covering only some subtypes of the pneumococcus bacterium.

The fear was that other subtypes would simply replace them, blunting the vaccine's impact.

But the seven-year surveillance project, involving 15,000 patients, found the vaccine was "highly effective''.

The incidence of invasive pneumococcal disease dropped by 55% in the 2- to 23-month age group, from 253 to 113 cases per 100,000, he said.

The study seems likely to help pave the way for the new vaccines to be used in many other countries, including in Africa.

Prof Hill said it was "wonderful'' the vaccine was proving effective in Africa, and he felt a "great deal of satisfaction'' about the project outcome.

The project has also highlighted the Otago centre's positive role, in contributing expertise to wider collaborative efforts.

Prof Hill has remained an investigator, visiting the project annually since the centre was established eight years ago.

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