Approximately 80% of children three years of age and younger are affected by otitis media, with treatment costs estimated at more than $5 billion per year. The affliction is painful for children and frustrating and costly for parents. The introduction of the heptavalent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in 2000 caused a reduction in the number of ear infections caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. New research shows that the effect of this vaccine on reduction of serious pediatric ear infections and the need for insertion of ventilating ear tubes may be even greater than anticipated.
Explore This IssueAugust 2007
The Heptavalent Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine
S. pneumoniae is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in the United States. It also causes other serious problems such as blood infections, pneumonia, and ear infections. Up to one-third of ear infections are believed to be caused by the S. pneumoniae bacteria.
The heptavalent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7), which was licensed in the United States in February 2000, is marketed by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals as Prevnar. In June 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that all children aged 23 months and younger receive the PCV7 vaccine. That same month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued its own recommendation that mimicked that of the CDC. Both agencies further recommended that children between 24 and 59 months of age who were determined to be at especially high risk should also be vaccinated. This includes children who have illnesses or take medications that affect the immune system or who have chronic heart or lung disease.
The vaccine is administered in four doses, given at 2, 4, 6, and 12 to 15 months of age, and can be incorporated into the scheduled administration of other childhood vaccines. Children who are allergic to any component of Prevnar should not receive the vaccine, and any child who is moderately or severely ill should wait until he or she has recovered before receiving the vaccine. A full four-dose regimen of Prevnar is 97% effective in preventing the seven strains of the pneumococcus bacterium included in the vaccine. Health officials believe that even a reduced regimen of the vaccine will provide some benefit.
According to Peter Paradiso, PhD, Vice-President of Scientific Affairs for Wyeth Vaccines, the prelicensure studies of the Prevnar vaccine conducted in California and Finland showed 25% to 40% reductions in ear tube placement, regardless of cause. He stated in a telephone interview, It was clear in children who had serious ear infections and recurrent ear infections leading to ear tubes, that there was significant reduction as a result of the vaccination.