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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Vaccinating Kids Cuts Adult Pneumonia

Giving Pneumonia Vaccine to Kids Cuts Child, Adult Disease
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"This is quite novel, the idea you could immunize children to protect adults," Klugman tells WebMD. "There is evidence from Japan that annual immunization of children with flu vaccine reduced flu mortality in adults. These sorts of observations are changing the equation of cost effectiveness of vaccination."

Why not just vaccinate adults? The older 23-valent vaccine is supposed to do just that. But another NEJM report shows that this vaccine doesn't cut pneumonia rates in elderly people. It does, however, keep the pneumonia bugs from causing deadly blood infections. Study leader Lisa A. Jackson, MD, MPH, is a researcher at Seattle's Group Health Cooperative and professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, Seattle.

"We need to keep using the vaccine we have, the 23-valent pneumococcal vaccine for seniors, because it does prevent the majority of these serious infections," Jackson tells WebMD. "We also need to use flu vaccine because it can prevent flu pneumonia. But if we want to make a big impact on seniors, we need more research to develop better ways to vaccinate them."

It's not as simple as just giving seniors the childhood vaccine. Klugman notes that unlike infants, adults have already been exposed to pneumonia bacteria. It's not at all clear how the conjugate vaccine would work in the elderly. Jackson is about to start a trial to find out.

"In kids who got conjugate vaccine, there was a detectable reduction in pneumonia from all causes," Jackson says. "That was a surprise, because we thought that most pneumonia in kids was viral. So this holds out hope for adults."

Lots of U.S. kids carry the strep pneumonia bug. It's a very common cause of inner ear infections. But in this country, it's relatively rare for a child to die of strep pneumonia. That's not the case in the developing world, where this bug is one of the great child killers. Getting the pneumonia vaccine to kids in these nations is a worldwide health priority, Klugman says.

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