New vaccine needed for serious childhood pneumonia

A rise in vaccine-resistant bacteria shows the need for a new vaccine to fight childhood empyema after a spike in hospitalisations, a recent UNSW study reveals.

A UNSW Sydney-led medical research team has called for a new vaccine, improved strategies and enhanced monitoring to combat serious complications from childhood pneumonia. Approximately 7000 Australians under the age of 18 are hospitalised with pneumonia each year.

The researchers examined the impact of the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (13vPCV) on childhood pneumonia and empyema – complicated pneumonia – after its introduction to the Australian National Immunisation Program about a decade ago.

Senior author Professor Adam Jaffe, Head of the School of Women’s and Children’s Health at UNSW Medicine & Health, said the researchers’ findings suggested an emergence of non-vaccine serotypes – those which 13vPCV does not cover.

(13vPCV was introduced to cover the 13 most common serotypes responsible for invasive pneumococcal infection. The previous vaccine (7vPCV) covered seven serotypes. A serotype is a distinct variation within a bacteria species.)

“Childhood bacterial pneumonia and empyema are potentially preventable diseases through vaccination. So, if Australia can develop an effective vaccine, we could prevent children from being hospitalised with pneumonia and empyema.” said Professor Jaffe

The new study, published in Thorax recently, found that while 13vPCV resulted in a 21 per cent decrease in childhood pneumonia hospitalisations, there was a contemporaneous 25 per cent increase in admissions for empyema.

Although children are highly unlikely to die from empyema, they can expect a long stay in hospital for treatment with antibiotics and surgery, or the insertion of a drain. If adults develop empyema, about a third are likely to die.

Find the study in Thorax.