Childhood Pneumonia and Pneumococcal Diseases – A Vaccine for Prevention

Last week, GlaxoSmithKline launched Synflorix, a breakthrough pneumococcal vaccine, in the Philippines. The Philippines is the first country in Asia to approve Synflorix for use.

Let me share with you some facts that I learned about pneumonia and pneumococcal diseases from the doctors who spoke at the launch –  Dr Lulu Bravo, Dr Gretchen Navarro-Locsin, and Dr Nancy Bermal.

Did you know that –

Pneumonia is the leading killer of children all over the world? Globally, 2 million kids under 5 years die of pneumonia every year.

The Philippines is 10th in the world among countries with the most cases of pneumonia?

In the Philippines, 26% of children who get Invasive Pneumococcal Disease (IPD) will die?

Otitis Media (a.k.a. middle ear infection or earache) is so common in developing countries, such as ours, that cases in these countries account for 60-80% of all global cases?


Pneumococcal diseases are caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae (abbreviated as S. pneumoniae). IPDs are more severe pneumococcal diseases, and include:

Invasive Pneumonia, a serious bacterial lung infection that is highly fatal if left untreated. This pneumococcal infection manifests with high fever, chills, shortness of breath, chest pain, and thick greenish phlegm. Fatality rates are estimated to range between 10-20%, and increases in high-risk groups such as young children and the elderly.

Pneumococcal Meningitis, infection of the membranes that cover the brain. This is more common in children below age 2, and has serious consequences. One out of six children will die, while 25% of those who survive will be left with debilitating complications such as hearing loss, blindness, epilepsy, and learning/behavioral difficulties. Symptoms of pneumococcal meningitis include high fever, severe headache, vomiting, stiff neck, muscle pain, drowsiness and rashes.

Pneumococcal Bacteremia, an extremely serious infection where S. pneumoniae reach the blood and multiply there. Pneumococcal bacteremia has a 20% fatality rate, and is a common complication of invasive pneumococcal pneumonia.


Otitis Media (OM), known as middle ear infection or earache (luga!), is so common that  it’s estimated about 75% of all children will have had at least one episode by age 3. It is not a very serious disease, but the pain can be bothersome, and repeated infection can cause hearing loss. Sinusitis and Bronchitis are two other common infections caused by the pneumoccocal bacteria.


Pneumococcal diseases are spread through contact between people who are sick or carry the bacteria in their throats. Sneezing, coughing, and touching infected surfaces or with dirty hands are ways that spread the pneumococcal bacteria.


Antibiotics are the standard treatment for pneumococcal infections, specifically with penicillin. But resistance to penicillin and other antibiotics have emerged in recent years.

Antibiotic resistance is of particular importance in severe infections such as IPD. When a case of pneumonia becomes resistant and unresponsive to antibiotic treatments, there really is not much that can be done. Such cases could lead to the patient’s eventual death.

With this point of view in mind, vaccination becomes a better, safer and more practical alternative –prevention rather than cure.


The old pneumococcal vaccine, called 7-Valent Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV7), was introduced in 2000. As the name implies, PCV7 works against 7 serotypes of S. pneumoniae. It was proven effective against childhood IPD in developed countries such as the US, Canada and Australia.


However, PCV7 does not have three other serotypes– serotypes 1, 5, and 7F – that cause most IPD cases in Asian countries, including the Philippines. These three serotypes are responsible for 22% of childhood IPDs in the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand.

Serotypes 1, 5, and 7F have been associated with high levels of invasive disease and can cause more serious conditions such as complicated pneumonia.

Because serotypes 1, 5, and 7F are highly prevalent in the Philippines, a vaccine that protects against these serotypes will greatly benefit our children.


GSK now offers PHiD-CV* under the brand name Synflorix, a pneumococcal vaccine that is 10-valent and also protects against acute otitis media.

Synflorix has all the 7 serotypes found in PCV7, plus the three serotypes 1, 5, and 7F. Because of this, Synflorix has broader coverage, especially in countries such as the Philippines.

In addition to having 10 serotypes of S. pneumoniae, the vaccine also protects against non-typeable Hemophilus influenzae (NTHi), another bacteria that also causes pneumonia, otitis media and sinusitis, among others.


I know this post has been a barrage of technical medical terms (which I extremely enjoyed because it has taken me back to my vaccine marketing days! 😛 ). So let me sum it up.

There is just one take-home message here. I mean, two three:

1. IPD is a serious bacterial illness among children that may lead to debilitating consequences and, possibly, even death. It’s more deadly than A(H1N1)!

2. IPD is highly preventable through vaccination.

3. A vaccine that protects against a wider range of serotypes of the pneumococcal bacteria is the best option for children under 5 years of age.

For more information, please visit, or ask your child’s pediatrician.


*PHiD-CV – Pneumococcal Non-Typeable Hemophilus influenzae Protein D Conjugate Vaccine

References on file.

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