Vaccine With University of Rochester Roots Saves More Than Just Those Who Receive It

April 06, 2006

Researchers, including one in Rochester, have found that a vaccine that had its start in basic research two decades ago at what is now Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong has shown success more far-reaching than protecting just the children who receive it.

Nancy M. Bennett, M.D., M.S., director of the new Center for Community Health at the University of Rochester Medical Center and deputy director of the Monroe County Department of Public Health, is an author on a study in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine that shows the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine has been effective in reducing cases of antibiotic-resistant infections in the elderly who have not received the vaccine, as well as young children who have received it.

“This vaccine has been incredibly effective in reducing pneumococcal disease in children who receive the vaccine, and in adults who are protected by herd immunity,” Bennett said. “This paper reports on yet another beneficial effect, the decrease in antibiotic-resistant infections. This is great news as antibiotic resistance is a tremendous challenge to our ability to decrease illness and death from this common infection.”

Bennett also commented that although the percentage of local pneumococcal infections with antibiotic resistance is relatively low, compared to the others sites in the study, it has been almost halved since the introduction of the conjugate vaccine.

This study also reflects the value of the enhanced surveillance system, the CDC-funded Emerging Infections Program, that the eight-county Rochester region has been part of since 1998. This program, a collaboration of the New York State Department of Health, the Monroe County Department of Public Health, and the University of Rochester, assures the close tracking of the epidemiology of a variety of infectious diseases.

“The clinical laboratories of the region deserve all the credit for the careful work they do assuring that these diseases are reported to the surveillance system and that the isolates are shared with the CDC so that advanced testing can be completed.” said Bennett. “If it were not for their contributions, we could not track the beneficial effects of this vaccine on the population at large.” 

Among children younger than 2 years old, there was an 81 percent decline in resistant infections between 1999 and 2004. And for those 65 years old or older, there was a decline of almost 50 percent. Researchers believe the decline among the older population, which has not received the vaccine, is because children aren’t spreading the infections as often because they are vaccinated against them.

The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, known commercially as Prevnar, would not exist without the technology developed at the University of Rochester Medical Center. A team of pediatric researchers was one of the first to develop and test the concept of a "conjugate" vaccine, a method to make a vaccine more effective by linking it to a protein that would spur an infant’s immune system to fight an infection especially vigorously.

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