Pneumococcal vaccine thwarts resistant infections in children

Since shot introduced in 2010, serious illness numbers have plunged

PHILADELPHIA — A vaccine for pneumonia and meningitis that is routinely given to babies has exceeded expectations. Not only is it effective in preventing pneumococcal infections, it has reduced those illnesses caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria by nearly two-thirds in the four years since it was approved for use.

The vaccine is called the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, since it stirs up immune protection against 13 subtypes of Streptococcus pneumoniae. This bacterium can cause pneumonia, meningitis, blood infections, ear infections and other woes. A 7-valent version introduced in 2000 was similar but covered fewer subtypes.

Epidemiologist Sara Tomczyk of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and colleagues tapped CDC data on millions of infections nationwide and focused on children under age 5. Compared with 2009, when the 7-valent vaccine was in use, in 2013 disease caused by pneumococcal bacteria that was resistant to at least one antibiotic dropped by 62 percent in this age group. Tomczyk reported the findings October 9 at ID Week, an annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and related health care associations. When the researchers singled out five subtypes of the microbe covered by the 13-valent vaccine but not by the earlier shots, they found that antibiotic-resistant infections arising from one of these microbes dropped by 93 percent. The vaccine is now also recommended for people age 65 and older.

Andrew Pavia, a pediatrician at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, said,  “Vaccines are something that, maybe in the future, can have a large impact on antibiotic resistance.”

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