A vaccine to fight common bacterial diseases has produced significant and unexpected drops in repeat ear infections and the need for inserted ear tubes in children since its U.S. introduction in 2000, researchers reported on Monday.
“This is exciting news for parents whose children suffer from frequent and painful ear infections,” said Katherine Poehling, a pediatrician at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and lead author of the study.
The vaccine “is going beyond what it was supposed to do,” she said in an interview.
The vaccination, given initially at 2, 4 and 6 months of age, was designed to combat a number of pneumococcal infections, including ear infections that most children have at least once by the time they turn 2 years old.
But Poehling said the new research shows that the vaccine was also preventing repeat infections, which occur three or four times a year in up to nearly a third of all children, often requiring the insertion of ear tubes to equalize pressure.
The vaccine has also helped adults, she said, by preventing the general spread of disease.
“We have seen declines in the incidence of serious infections such as pneumococcal meningitis in both children and adults, as well as the number of children developing frequent ear infections,” she said.
The study, published in the April issue of “Pediatrics,” the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, looked at data from more than 150,000 children in Tennessee and another 26,409 in upstate New York enrolled in health insurance programs from birth to age 5.
Since the introduction of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine, it found, the proportion of children who developed frequent ear infections and the proportion who received ear tubes declined by 16 percent in Tennessee and 25 percent in New York by age 2.
The vaccine, called PCV7, is marketed by Wyeth under the brand name Prevenar.
Poehling called the results “very exciting” but said public health officials need to keep watch of the situation to make sure pneumococcal strains not included in the vaccine do not become a problem.