Vaccinate kids to reduce hearing loss

A study led by Menzies School of Health Research has recommended that Northern Territory First Nations children aged 12-36 months have improved access to an effective vaccine that could prevent hearing loss.

Published last week in PLOS Medicine, the 5-year study looked to uncover which type of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), +P or +S, could best reduce debilitating hearing loss caused by chronic otitis media. 

The +P vaccine (known as PCV13) is currently provided to children in the NT, and the study found the group who received +P had better hearing than those who in the +S vaccine (known as PHiD-CV10) group.  

The difference in hearing loss between the 2 vaccine groups was found to be 20%, but due to the small sample size, the real difference likely to be between 1-37%. 

Due to vaccine formulations and the bacterial make-up of otitis media, it was expected that the +S vaccine would provide better protection against hearing loss, and lead author of the study, Professor Amanda Leach, who heads the Menzies Ear Health Research Program, said that the research moved our healthcare system one step closer to tackling the impacts of otitis media. 

“Almost every Australian First Nations child living in remote regions of the Northern Territory experiences chronic otitis media in their early years of life. It is crucial that this illness is prevented or treated early, to reduce hearing loss, and subsequent impacts on learning and development,” Professor Leach said. 

“Given Australian First Nations children have the highest reported rates of otitis media in the world, these findings are crucial to helping guide research, policy and practice, particularly as new vaccine formulations become available. 

“The results of this study are extremely helpful. Many people thought that the +S vaccine would be better, but the prevalence of moderate hearing loss halved, and normal hearing doubled in those who received the +P vaccine (PVC13) when compared to the +S group. This trend continued at each 6 month follow up, until the child reached 3 years of age, but with a smaller difference.” 

Independent of the pharmaceutical industry, the National Health and Medical Research Council supported the roll out of two randomised control trials of head-to-head and combination vaccine schedules for the study.  

“These studies are vital in ensuring that vaccines are best meeting the needs of high-risk populations and strive to achieve better health outcomes for First Nations children. All young children should be able to hear, listen, speak and learn to communicate during their early years of life,” Professor Leach said.