SOUTH AFRICA — Pfizer has partnered with South Africa’s Biovac Institute to produce a life-saving pneumococcal vaccine for infants, called Prevnar 13.
The partnership will expand over a period of five years and will take place at Biovac’s Capetown facility, a move that will help reduce costs says Naledi Pandor, the Science and Technology Minister. Pzifer will provide an array of new technologies and skills necessary for continued production of the pneumonia vaccine.
Prevnar 13 has proven effective in stemming pneumococcal infection in children ages six weeks to five years. It has also seen success in patients over the age of 50.
While the vaccine does not have the ability to cure an active infection, it will prevent anyone who has been vaccinated from becoming infected in the future.
Pneumonia is an acute disease that impacts the lungs. When an individual becomes infected with pneumonia, their lungs fill with fluid. In turn, breathing becomes labored and oxygen intake is substantially limited.
Children are one of the most at-risk demographics. According to the World Health Organization, pneumonia remains the leading cause of death in children under five worldwide. “It accounts for about 1.6 million deaths a year in this age group – 18 percent of all deaths among children under five,” WHO reports. “More than 99 percent of all pneumonia deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.”
“South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa bear the burden of more than half of the total number of cases of suspected pneumonia among children under five worldwide,” WHO states.
These statistics have prompted conversations among world leaders and health agencies to curtail the disease. Pharmaceutical companies have also taken note.
“Preventing pneumococcal disease is a priority for Pfizer in South Africa,” said Jennifer Power, the South African country manager for Pfizer.
“We have already seen great results since vaccination was introduced and we are pleased to partner with Biovac, sharing best practices, knowledge, and skills to continue to mark a real difference for our patients,” she added.
In clinical trials Prevnar proved successful in curtailing pneumonia infection. A March 2014 study conducted by Pfizer revealed that people who got the vaccine were 46 percent less likely to get serious pneumonia caused by the bacteria strains covered by Prevnar 13 than those who received placebo.
South Africa’s Biovac Institute is hopeful for continued success for patients in need of the life-saving vaccine. The group remains optimistic that by the year 2020, it will be able to provide over one million South African babies with upwards of three million doses of the vaccine.
“The launch of the local manufacture of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is a stepping stone to the ultimate dream of developing our own vaccines on the continent, for the continent,” said Health Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi.