Maori and Pacific Island children will benefit significantly from the change in formulation of a funded vaccine designed to prevent the most common form of hearing loss among young people, according to a Starship Paediatric Ear Nose and Throat Specialist.
New Zealand has a high incidence of middle ear infections (also known as otitis media; OM), with around 83,000 GP consultations and 5,000 hospital admissions annually for this condition in children under five years.
Around 80% of children (by the age of three) will have had one episode of acute otitis media. Chronic otitis media is the leading cause of hearing loss among children according to the World Health Organization.
Starship paediatric ear, nose and throat specialist Colin Barber says in New Zealand Maori and Pasifika children are disproportionately affected, with their hospital admission rates for otitis media reported to be up to twice those of European and other children.
“In New Zealand the children most at risk of contracting otitis media are Maori and Pasifika children. Historically this was thought to be a genetic risk but today we think it's much more a reflection of poverty and overcrowding,” he says.
Barber says recurrent otitis media can have potentially serious complications (such as hearing loss) and has been associated with social and developmental problems. A previous New Zealand study found that the incidence of hearing loss and ear disease is significantly higher in Maori prisoners compared with European prisoners.
PHARMAC has recently funded the Synflorix® vaccine which is designed to reduce otitis media caused by non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi) as well as Streptococcus pneumoniae. These two pathogens are found in up to 80% of acute otitis media cases.
The move has been welcomed by Barber who says it will benefit our most vulnerable children.
“It is these Maori and Pasifika children that it's particularly important to use vaccination to deal with, not only invasive pneumococcal disease but also to help as much as possible with otitis media”.
“Early vaccination should protect against invasive pneumococcal disease and should have a greater effect against otitis media and this vaccine is a very important modality in trying to help deal with this problem,” says Barber.