In a cluster-randomized trial conducted in Gambian villages, Anna Roca and colleagues find that vaccination of children with pneumococcal conjugate vaccines reduced vaccine-type pneumococcal carriage even among nonvaccinated older children and adults.
Introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCVs) of limited valency is justified in Africa by the high burden of pneumococcal disease. Long-term beneficial effects of PCVs may be countered by serotype replacement. We aimed to determine the impact of PCV-7 vaccination on pneumococcal carriage in rural Gambia.
Methods and Findings
A cluster-randomized (by village) trial of the impact of PCV-7 on pneumococcal nasopharyngeal carriage was conducted in 21 Gambian villages between December 2003 to June 2008 (5,441 inhabitants in 2006). Analysis was complemented with data obtained before vaccination. Because efficacy of PCV-9 in young Gambian children had been shown, it was considered unethical not to give PCV-7 to young children in all of the study villages. PCV-7 was given to children below 30 mo of age and to those born during the trial in all study villages. Villages were randomized (older children and adults) to receive one dose of PCV-7 (11 vaccinated villages) or meningococcal serogroup C conjugate vaccine (10 control villages). Cross-sectional surveys (CSSs) to collect nasopharyngeal swabs were conducted before vaccination (2,094 samples in the baseline CSS), and 4–6, 12, and 22 mo after vaccination (1,168, 1,210, and 446 samples in CSS-1, -2, and -3, respectively).
A time trend analysis showed a marked fall in the prevalence of vaccine-type pneumococcal carriage in all age groups following vaccination (from 23.7% and 26.8% in the baseline CSS to 7.1% and 8.5% in CSS-1, in vaccinated and control villages, respectively). The prevalence of vaccine-type pneumococcal carriage was lower in vaccinated than in control villages among older children (5 y to <15 y of age) and adults (≥15 y of age) at CSS-2 (odds ratio [OR] = 0.15 [95% CI 0.04–0.57] and OR = 0.32 [95% CI 0.10–0.98], respectively) and at CSS-3 (OR = 0.37 [95% CI 0.15–0.90] for older children, and 0% versus 7.6% for adults in vaccinated and control villages, respectively). Differences in the prevalence of non-vaccine-type pneumococcal carriage between vaccinated and control villages were small.
Vaccination of Gambian children reduced vaccine-type pneumococcal carriage across all age groups, indicating a “herd effect” in non-vaccinated older children and adults. No significant serotype replacement was detected.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
The prevention of pneumococcal disease, especially in children in developing countries, is a major international public health priority. Despite all the international attention on the UN's Millennium Development Goal 4—to reduce deaths in children under five years by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015—pneumonia, sepsis, and meningitis together compose more than 25% of the 10 million deaths occurring in children less than five years of age. Streptococcus pneumoniae is a leading bacterial cause of these diseases, and the World Health Organization estimates that approximately 800,000 children die each year of invasive pneumococcal disease.
Pneumococcal conjugate vaccines are currently available and protect against the serotypes that most commonly cause invasive pneumococcal disease in young children in North America and Europe. Such vaccines have been highly successful in reducing the incidence of invasive pneumococcal disease in both vaccinated children and in the non-vaccinated older population by reducing nasopharyngeal carriage (presence of pneumococcal bacteria in the back of the nose) in vaccinated infants, resulting in decreased transmission to contacts—the so-called herd effect. However, few countries with the highest burden of invasive pneumococcal disease, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, have introduced the vaccine into their national immunization programs.
Why Was This Study Done?
The features of pneumococcal nasopharyngeal carriage and invasive pneumococcal disease in sub-Saharan Africa are different than in other regions. Therefore, careful evaluation of the immune effects of vaccination requires long-term, longitudinal studies. As an alternative to such long-term observational studies, and to anticipate the potential long-term effects of the introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccination in sub-Saharan Africa, the researchers conducted a cluster-randomized (by village) trial in The Gambia in which the whole populations of some villages were immunized with the vaccine PCV-7, and other villages received a control.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
With full consent from communities, the researchers randomized 21 similar villages in a rural region of western Gambia to receive pneumococcal conjugate vaccine or a control—meningococcal serogroup C conjugated vaccine, which is unlikely to affect pneumococcal carriage rates. For ethical reasons, the researchers only randomized residents aged over 30 months—all young infants received PCV-7, as a similar vaccine had already been shown to be effective in young infants. Before immunization began, the researchers took nasopharyngeal swabs from a random selection of village residents to determine the baseline pneumococcal carriage rates of both the serotypes of pneumococci covered by the vaccine (vaccine types, VTs) and the serotypes of pneumococci not covered in the vaccine (non-vaccine types, NVTs). The researchers then took nasopharyngeal swabs from a random sample of 1,200 of village residents in both groups of villages in cross-sectional surveys at 4–6, 12, and 22 months after vaccination. Villagers and laboratory staff were unaware of which vaccine was which (that is, they were blinded).
Before immunization, the overall prevalence of pneumococcal carriage in both groups was high, at 71.1%, and decreased with age. After vaccination, the overall prevalence of pneumococcal carriage in all three surveys was similar between vaccinated and control villages, showing a marked fall. However, the prevalence of carriage of VT pneumococci was significantly lower in vaccinated than in control villages in all surveys for all age groups. The prevalence of carriage of NVT pneumococci was similar in vaccinated and in control villages, except for a slightly higher prevalence of NVT pneumococci among vaccinated communities in adults at 4–6 months after vaccination. The researchers also found that the overall prevalence of pneumococcal carriage fell markedly after vaccination and reached minimum levels at 12 months in both study arms and in all age groups.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that vaccination of young Gambian children reduced carriage of VT pneumococci in vaccinated children but also in vaccinated and non-vaccinated older children and adults, revealing a potential herd effect from vaccination of young children. Furthermore, the immunological pressure induced by vaccinating whole communities did not lead to a community-wide increase in carriage of NVT pneumococci during a two-year period after vaccination. The researchers plan to conduct more long-term follow-up studies to determine nasopharyngeal carriage in these communities.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001107.
The World Health Organization has information about pneumococcus
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information about pneumococcal conjugate vaccination