Health Issues
Infectious Disease: Invasive Pneumococcal Disease

Invasive pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria and can result in pneumonia, bacteremia, otitis media (ear infections), or meningitis. Indigenous people in the Arctic have higher rates of invasive pneumococcal disease, especially of recurrent ear infections. This can reduce hearing and may have a harmful effect on childhood learning.

Until recently, the rate of invasive pneumococcal disease in Alaskan Native populations was one of the highest in the world. The greatest disparity was in children less than 2 years of age, who were 3.5 times more likely to develop invasive pneumococcal disease than non-natives of the same age. To effectively deal with this problem, a new vaccine called PCV7 type that protects against 7 common types of invasive pneumococcal disease was introduced. Alaska made the PCV7 part of the routine child immunization schedule. As a result, the rates of invasive pneumococcal disease decreased 65% in children less than 2 years of age and 83% in children aged 2 – 4.

Since then, other countries with indigenous communities living in the Arctic have introduced this vaccine. Canada and Norway now include the PCV7 as part of regular immunizations for children. Other countries, like Greenland, Sweden, Russia, Finland, and Iceland don’t currently offer PCV7, but many are considering it.

Two projects in this Arctic Polar Year are focused on this topic. The first, EoI 1107, is focused on the initiation of PCV7 trials in Greenland. The other, EoI 1119, is evaluating the impact of combining the PCV7 vaccine with inactivated influenza in Nunavik children in Quebec, Canada. These two projects will increase our understanding of invasive pneumococcal disease and how to prevent this illness in indigenous Arctic populations.