Meningitis bacteria vaccine is useful with preschoolers

By Maria-Belen Moran The Associated Press
Saturday October 27, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — A recent study on more than 80,000 preschoolers demonstrates a new vaccine is highly successful in preventing the bacteria that causes meningitis, one of the co-authors of the study said Friday. 

Meningitis causes about 200 deaths in preschoolers nationwide each year, and more than 1 million deaths worldwide annually among infants and toddlers. 

A vaccine to protect older children and adults against pneumococcal infections, the principal cause of meningitis, has been available for 20 years.  

But a vaccine for children younger than 2 was just approved last year. 

The valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, or PNCV7, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in February 2000, but this study was the first of its effects in the general public, said Dr. Steven Black, co-director of the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center in Oakland and one of the study’s co-authors. 

Researchers say one of the most relevant findings of the study is a herd immunity effect, which means that vaccinated infants and toddlers seemed to be protecting those who had not been vaccinated. 

“It lowers the percentage of children who carry the disease in their throat,” Black said. “In fact, some evidence from the CDC shows adults are also being protected.” 

The pneumococcal bacteria can cause meningitis — an infection of the lining of the brain — which can lead to death, blindness, deafness, paralysis and learning problems. 

The bacteria also causes blood stream infections, pneumonia and middle ear infections. The bacteria is spread through close contact, including sneezing. 

“I would predict a decrease in the disease in the adult population as well,” said Black, a pediatrician with 25 years of experience, who explained that 20 percent of adults living with a young child contracts the disease — compared with only 5 percent of adults who don’t have any contact with preschoolers. 

The study will be presented Saturday during the 39th annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America in San Francisco. 

“The vaccine is highly effective, it is important not only for the U.S. but also for countries in the developing world,” Black said. 

No serious side effects to the vaccine were reported during the study, Black said. Common side effects are similar to those of other vaccines and include soreness and redness at the injection site, as well as fever. 

The FDA recommends all children up to 24 months of age be given the vaccine in four doses, at 2, 4, 6 and 12 to 15 months of age.  

Black said the vaccine already is available in some countries in Europe, South America and Australia.