Pneumococcal disease is a common cause of morbidity and mortality in the pediatric population. Pneumococcal infections, which account for most serious bacterial disease in infancy and early childhood, are a major cause of acute otitis media, sinusitis, pneumonia, bacterial meningitis, and bacteremia. Streptococcus pneumoniae is the causative agent in a large percentage of these infections, although other microorganisms also play a role. The recent emergence of drug-resistant strains has provided a strong incentive for preventing pneumococcal infections by vaccination. However, the capsular polysaccharide pneumococcal vaccines used to immunize adults are neither immunogenic nor protective in young children due to poor antibody responses. Therefore, research has focused on development of additional immunogenic pneumococcal vaccines to provide long-term immunity in children <2 years of age.
The most promising approach has been the development of a protein-polysaccharide conjugate vaccine for the seven serotypes (4, 6B, 9V, 14, 18C, 19F, and 23F) that most commonly cause infections in childhood. An effective conjugate vaccine that protects against these serotypes has the potential to prevent 85 percent of bacteremia episodes, 83 percent of meningitis episodes, and 65 percent of otitis media cases in the U.S. among children younger than 6 years.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the first protein-polysaccharide conjugate vaccine to prevent invasive pneumococcal diseases in infants and toddlers <2 years of age. This conjugated vaccine against pneumococcus uses the same technology as the successful vaccine against Haemophilus influenzae type b. It consists of an immunogenic but inert protein coupled covalently to the polysaccharide coat of the selected strains of pneumococci. The conjugated antigen induces a more powerful, T-cell-based immune response in infants, which is developed by the time they are 2 months of age.
Some important questions regarding this vaccine for children <2 years of age:
Findings: Results of three randomized double-blind trials designed to evaluate the safety and immunogenicity of this vaccine in healthy children <2 years of age were reported within the last three years. The studies found that the vaccine is safe and highly immunogenic for all seven serotypes. The most recent study, involving over 37,000 young children, also evaluated the vaccine's efficacy, and reported that the vaccine is highly effective in preventing invasive disease and has had an impact on otitis media.
Conclusions: The heptavalent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is safe and highly effective in preventing pneumococcal meningitis and bacteremic pneumonia in young children <2 years of age; it is less effective in preventing otitis media. Based on the results of three well-designed studies demonstrating the vaccine's safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy, the vaccine is safe and effective for active immunization of children <2 years of age against invasive disease caused by seven Streptococcus pneumoniae serotypes included in the vaccine. At this time, there is no clear medical consensus regarding its safety and efficacy for control of otitis media in children <2 years of age. This application has not been evaluated by the FDA. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine should be considered experimental, and has not been shown to be safe or efficacious for Streptococcus pneumoniae disease other than that caused by the serotypes included in the vaccine and for invasive infection, such as bacteremia or meningitis, caused by other microorganisms.
This paper has been peer reviewed by appropriate members of Managed Care's Editorial Advisory Board.