By Steven Reinberg
FRIDAY, Oct. 10, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The childhood pneumococcal vaccine helps children avoid the suffering and danger of ear infections, meningitis and pneumonia. And a new study suggests it may provide an added bonus: cutting down on infections from antibiotic-resistant "superbugs."
First used in children in 2010, the pneumococcal vaccine was linked to a 62 percent reduction between 2009 and 2013 of drug-resistant infections of bacterial pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream infections for children under 5.
"The vaccine is an important tool against antibiotic resistance," said lead researcher Sara Tomczyk, an epidemic intelligence service officer in the Respiratory Diseases Branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Along with appropriate antibiotic use, it is part of the solution to protecting ourselves against the growing threat of antibiotic resistance," she added.
The pneumococcal vaccine is currently recommended for all children age 5 and younger. Pneumococcal bacteria can cause ear infections, pneumonia and meningitis. It is the most common vaccine-preventable bacterial cause of death, the researchers noted.
Antibiotic-resistant strains are especially worrisome because standard drugs do not seem to help fight these bacteria.
But the advent of the pneumococcal vaccine may have lessened the danger. According to Tomczyk, more than 4,400 cases of antibiotic-resistant, invasive pneumococcal disease were prevented between 2010 to 2013.
"Not only does this vaccine prevent pneumococcal infection, which means fewer antibiotics are prescribed, but it also prevents antibiotic-resistant infections," she added.
Tomczyk said the vaccine has been so effective that the U.S. government's Healthy People 2020 goal of reducing bacteria-resistant pneumococcal disease from 9.3 to 6 cases per 100,000 children was achieved nine years early and has since dropped to 3.5 cases per 100,000.
The vaccine is required in three-quarters of states before a child can be admitted to day care, Tomczyk noted, and 85 percent of U.S. children have by now received the recommended four doses.
Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is given in four doses, at 2, 4 and 6 months of age and at 12 through 15 months.
The results of the study were scheduled to be presented in Philadelphia on Oct. 8 at IDWeek, the annual meeting of a number of groups focused on infectious disease. Experts note that findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Dr. Adriana Cadilla, a pediatrician at Miami Children's Hospital, said, "It's wonderful news that we have proof that the vaccine works as well as it does."
It has clearly reduced antibiotic-resistant pneumococcal disease, she added. "It seems to be doing a great job. It is something parents should make sure their children have."
The vaccine is not just for kids, Tomczyk stressed. One dose is recommended for all adults 65 and older, followed by a dose of the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine six to 12 months later.
There are more than 90 types of pneumococcal bacteria, she noted. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine protects against 13 of the most common severe pneumococcal infections among children, while the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria, including those most likely to cause serious disease, which is why both are recommended for older adults.
Additionally, one dose of the pneumococcal vaccine is recommended for adults 19 and older who have certain cancers, HIV or kidney failure, followed by doses of polysaccharide vaccine, Tomczyk said.