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Yale Scientist Seeks to Improve Vaccine Delivery in Developing World with $1.5 Million Grant

While considerable progress has been made in improving children’s health globally, pneumococcus remains a stubborn problem.

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The bacterium is a major cause of pneumonia, the world’s leading cause of respiratory deaths in children under age 5. The vast majority of those deaths occur in the developing world, where the vaccine is expensive, and has not been widely introduced.

With a $1.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a team of Yale School of Public Health researchers led by Dr. Daniel Weinberger, assistant professor in the department of epidemiology of microbial diseases, is poised to shed light on how the potentially life-saving vaccine could impact low-income communities worldwide.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty about how this vaccine will impact resource-poor communities,” Dr. Weinberger said. “Our study will provide new information about how socioeconomic conditions might influence vaccine impacts.”

The study will seek to analyze a complex set of hospitalization and administrative data on pneumonia in order to understand the varying effectiveness of vaccination on different socioeconomic groups. The research will begin by examining data from Latin America, where the vaccine has a foothold, and then use that information to develop models of the vaccine’s potential impact in similar low- and middle-income communities where the vaccine has yet to be introduced and where there is a lack of high-quality data.

“I would hope that our results will help to provide important information to policymakers about the potential impacts of the vaccine, and they could then use these data to make informed decisions about whether to support the introduction and continued use of the vaccine in their countries,” Dr. Weinberger said.

His team will also develop graphical visualization tools that will help local leaders without quantitative expertise understand the potential impacts of the vaccine in their settings and use data to inform effective policy decisions.

Based on evidence from North America, Europe and other regions where the vaccine is more widely used, vaccinating children against pneumococcus is the most effective way to prevent pneumococcal infections in both children and adults, Weinberger said. A particular benefit of vaccinating children is “herd protection,” which sees disease rates drop among the elderly and other high-risk groups when children are vaccinated. The study will look at how the effects of the vaccine and herd protection could change between various socioeconomic groups.