Yes, vaccines prevent diseases, but they can also make a difference in some more unexpected and less obvious ways. This World Pneumonia Day, we look at some of the ways in which the vaccines helping fight this disease can go above and beyond. 

1. Protecting the unvaccinated

A recent study in Kenya found that after vaccines had been introduced pneumococcus – a major bacterial cause of pneumonia – was reduced, not only among those who had been vaccinated, but also significantly among older groups. This emphasises the importance of “herd immunity” – the idea that the more people who are protected against a particular disease, the less likely anyone who has not been (or cannot be) immunised will catch it.  

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Not this kind of herd! Source: Flickr

2. Helping reduce resistance to antibiotics

Antibiotic resistance is a growing global health problem, and one that already causes significant difficulties in the treatment of diseases like tuberculosis (or TB). However, as a nice surprise, evidence from South Africa has shown that PCV vaccines – the pneumococcal fighting ones mentioned above – also reduce resistance to certain antibiotics, such as penicillin, in adults and children. Reduction in other types of antibiotic resistance has also been noted in an recent study

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Source: Gavi/ A von Gottberg et al. 

3.  Saving money

Not the first thing you might think of when considering pneumonia prevention, but scaling-up coverage of vaccines against Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and pneumococcus (two major bacterial causes of pneumonia) in the world’s poorest countries could save $51 billion dollars in treatment costs and productivity losses. More widely, research suggests that children who are vaccinated are more likely to have an improved school attendance and do better at school, making them potentially more productive members of society later in life. 

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Healthier kids are able to spend more time at school, which can mean a brighter future for everyone.  Source: Gavi/Evelyn Hockstein 

4. Avoiding hospital

Perhaps more of a straightforward one here, but researchers from Kilifi, in Kenya, saw a remarkable dip and then a complete end to hospitalisations for pneumococcal disease after vaccines were brought in, showing the most severe forms of disease being kept firmly at bay.  

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Source: Gavi 101 (long)/Wellcome-KEMRI research project

5. Protecting kids with HIV

Children with, and exposed to, HIV have a higher burden of pneumococcal disease, making them even more vulnerable. But a new study has shown that these kids get highly effective protection from the PCV vaccine too – something worth smiling about!

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Source: Gavi/ Evelyn Hockstein