A new typhoid vaccine, which for the first time can be given to children, has been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). There are high hopes that if rolled out across those low to middle-income countries in which the disease is most prevalent, the disease could even be eradicated as millions of infections and thousands of deaths would be prevented.
Caused by a bacteria known as Salmonella typhi, the disease causes an estimated 22 million infections a year, which result in 220,000 deaths. As the bacteria is spread largely through poor sanitation and hygiene, it is a disease that overwhelmingly affects those people living in developing nations. Resulting in fever, nausea, and constipation, it can eventually result in about 1 percent of cases in death.
Doctors and health professionals are keen to roll out the use of this new vaccine for as many people in low and middle-income countries, not least because the bacteria responsible is already developing antimicrobial resistance, meaning that antibiotic drugs are set to become less and less effective. If it is possible to vaccinate children, however, it could potentially lead to the prevention of many millions of cases of the disease, and thus ease the overburden on antibiotics that is the current situation.
The WHO is recommending that children around the age of six months should receive the vaccine first in all countries where the disease is endemic, before a catch-up program is rolled out in the youngest age groups up to the age of 15. Previously typhoid vaccines were not recommended for children under the age of 2 years. They are also advocating beginning the program in those low and middle-income countries where the rates of microbial resistant S. typhi are the highest.
The approval has come after a successful trial in which 112 people were given the new vaccine, before being infected with the typhoid bacteria. The results, published in The Lancet, showed that the treatment was 87 percent effective, and if this could be replicated in the wider population, would significantly cut the number of people infected by the disease.
“It could have a huge impact,” Professor Andrew Pollard, who conducted the trials of the vaccine, told BBC News. “If it can be rolled out in all communities, it must be possible to prevent the majority of cases and if it also interrupts transmission, which hasn't been shown yet, then it could be eliminated from those regions.”
The vaccine is now being considered by the organization Gavi, which pays for vaccines across many developing countries.