November 2, 2009 / 2:34 AM / 10 years ago

Pneumonia vaccine could save money in flu pandemic

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A more protective form of Pfizer’s vaccine for pneumococcal disease would be highly effective at preventing deaths from pandemic influenza, independent researchers and the company reported over the weekend.

In a severe outbreak like the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, they said Prevnar 13 — a more broadly protective version of Prevnar vaccine — could prevent an additional 388,000 cases of pneumonia and save an additional $6.2 billion in health care costs.

The savings would be far greater — $18 billion in medical costs — in countries that have not offered any immunization against pneumococcal disease, the team reported at a meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America in Philadelphia.

Prevnar vaccine developed by Wyeth — which was recently acquired by Pfizer — protects against seven strains of penumococcal bacteria in infants and children.

Prevnar 13 protects against 13 forms of bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae that can cause an array of so-called pneumococcal diseases, ranging from ear infections to pneumonia and meningitis.

“Essentially, there will be significant savings in countries that introduce this vaccine in preventing all of these infections,” Dr. Keith Klugman of Emory University in Atlanta, who worked on the studies, said in a telephone interview.

Klugman, a former researcher at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said pneumonia is a chief cause of death in any influenza pandemic and there is increasing evidence of a “synergistic effect” between influenza and pneumococcal infection.

“We are not arguing that pneumococcal vaccine prevents influenza, but we are arguing that it prevents those secondary synergistic influenza combinations,” he said.


Protecting against pneumonia may be important as manufacturing delays hold up the supply of swine flu vaccine in the United States, said Dr. Richard Whitley, a pediatric infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and president of the infectious diseases society.

He said bacterial infections played a role in many of the 114 deaths in children from the 2009 H1N1 virus, and many of those could have been prevented with a pneumococcal vaccine.

“Of the deaths that are caused by bacterial infection, probably two out of three of them are related to pneumococcal disease in children who did not get immunized,” Whitley said.

“We’re not going to have the 2009 H1N1 vaccine for all children probably for another two to four weeks. If there is something we could do to protect those children it would be good,” he said in a telephone interview.

Whitley said a good place to start is offering the currently approved Prevnar vaccine to children who have not already been vaccinated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set to rule on Pfizer’s application for Prevnar 13 in December.

Pneumococcal disease kills more than 1.6 million people worldwide each year, including 800,000 children.

CDC researchers estimated this week that as many as 5.7 million people in the United States have been infected with swine flu so far, with at least 1,300 deaths.

Editing by Maggie Fox

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