How do pneumonia bugs outsmart vaccines?

Vaccination helps prevent people from getting sick. By avoiding illness, we reduce use of antibiotics, which in turn helps reduce the evolution of drug resistance.

BC Lung Association research grant recipient Dr. Manish Sadarangani is working to reduce childhood infectious disease by researching evidence-based vaccination policy. A major cause of death and illness world-wide, the pneumonia bug Streptococcus pneumoniae (also called pneumococcus) is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia.

Since vaccines against pneumococcus bacteria were introduced in Canada in 2004, the number of cases of pneumonia has gone down by 70 per cent.

But while effective, vaccines only protect against 13 types of pneumococcus, and more than 90 have been identified. These bacteria are also rapidly evolving to survive in those who have been vaccinated.

Making better use of existing vaccines and developing new vaccines are important ways to tackle antibiotic resistance and reduce preventable illness and deaths.

Due to overuse and misuse of antibiotics, increase in disease caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria is today a major public health concern globally. It is difficult and costly to treat drug-resistant infections, and people don’t always recover.

Dr. Sadarangani and his colleagues are working to understand how bacteria change and to develop better vaccines.  His research involves studying the DNA from a unique resource of samples collected from children with pneumonia across Canada over the last 25 years. Many of the samples contain bacteria that are not covered by the current vaccine and are not killed easily by antibiotics.

Using brand-new technology to examine the DNA, Dr. Sadarangani and his team are seeking to uncover how the bacteria are related. From this, they can develop a ‘family tree’ of the bacteria, which will reveal how they evolved. They will also compare the bacteria from before and after the vaccine was introduced.

The results will contribute to the design of vaccines, help doctors to manage pneumonia and reveal the evolution of antibiotic resistance in pneumococcus bacteria. 

Learn whether you’re at risk and how to protect yourself through the pneumonia vaccine.

Dr. Manish Sadarangani is Director of the Vaccine Evaluation Center (VEC) at BC Children’s Hospital. He joined the VEC from the Children’s Hospital in Oxford, UK, where he was a Clinical Lecturer and Consultant in Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology.  He also serves as Sauder Chair in Pediatric Infectious Diseases for the University of British Columbia.


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Page Last Updated: 19/08/2019