Vaccine site to track immunizations, help identify need for new ones

Brighton, Pittsford doctors to run one of only two sites nationwide

December 06, 1999

In an effort to gauge how effective - and how effectively administered - new and existing vaccines are in preventing childhood illness, the Centers for Disease Control has awarded Children's Hospital at Strong a five-year, $2.5 million grant. The money will be used to establish one of only two New Vaccine Surveillance Network sites in the U.S.

Children's Hospital at Strong will partner with dozens of primary care physicians throughout Monroe County to monitor the effects of new and existing vaccines; provide clinical information about diseases that could eventually lead to the creation of new vaccines; and develop a model to improve immunization delivery.

The primary care physicians who will partner with Children's Hospital at Strong serve more than half of the county's children. Because vaccine-preventable childhood illnesses are similar throughout the country, results from the Rochester-based study will be applicable to other communities throughout the country.

"This is community-based research at its best," says Dr. Peter Szilagyi, of Pittsford. "We were chosen for this grant because Rochester is ahead of the curve when it comes to immunizing our children, tracking data about vaccine-preventable diseases and the delivery of immunizations, and collaborating with community-based practitioners. We're also fortunate to have Caroline Hall, M.D. (of Brighton), one of the world's experts on immunizations."

The establishment of this vaccine surveillance site is especially timely because the number of injections routinely recommended during the first 18 months of life has tripled in the last decade, and there is a slew of new vaccines on the horizon.

"There are many vaccines coming down the pike," Szilagyi says. "I think there are almost as many new vaccines in the pipeline - that will probably come out within five years - as we have right now."

The primary care practices that will participate with Children's Hospital at Strong will share information about how many children visit their practices, what types of illnesses they have, and when their immunizations are given.

What helps make this study of immunizations unique, Szilagyi says, is that the program has a laboratory component. Researchers will take a closer look at two primary care practices, one day each week, to determine clinical diagnoses and further examine viral cultures to precisely determine the types of illnesses children have.

"We will be able to predict how much of a disease can be prevented with a vaccine, and then make recommendations on how to improve the use of the vaccines," Szilagyi says. "This clinical information will help us target new vaccines, and help set the timeline for - and measure the impact of - new vaccines."

"For example, croup is a childhood illness caused by a variety of viruses, and a new vaccine that is now being developed will help reduce the number of children who become sick with croup," Szilagyi adds. "This surveillance study will measure what percentage of respiratory diseases are caused by croup, the extent to which these diseases would be prevented by a new vaccine, and measure the impact on children in the community when the new vaccine is implemented."

In addition, a periodic random survey of children seen by doctors in Monroe County will be performed to measure county coverage rates and immunization practices. That data will be compared to numbers that were compiled in 1993, 1996, and 1999.

Collaborating with Szilagyi and Hall are Dr. Geoffrey Weinberg; Dr. Thomas McInerny; Dr. Stanley Schaffer; and Laura Pollard Stone, M.S.W. Weinberg, who also lives in Pittsford, will lead the laboratory component of the study that will measure the effectiveness of vaccinations.

The researchers envision a time when, after a new vaccine has been licensed, federal and state public health leaders will work with community surveillance systems throughout the nation to monitor the effects of new vaccines.

"This project is designed to make such a dream a reality," Szilagyi says.

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