updated 5/11/2004 5:45:00 PM ET 2004-05-11T21:45:00

A childhood vaccine against pneumonia, ear infections and meningitis has dramatically reduced such diseases in the United States and narrowed the racial gap among victims, a government study found.

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Before the vaccine was introduced in 2000, the incidence of what are called invasive pneumococcal infections was 3.3 times higher in black children under 2 than in whites. In 2002, the incidence was just 1.6 times higher among black youngsters, according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between 1998 and 2002, the overall rates fell from 19 cases per 100,000 among whites to 12.1 cases per 100,000, and among blacks from 54.9 per 100,000 to 26.5 per 100,000. That translates to 14,730 fewer cases among whites and 8,780 among blacks, the researchers said.

The vaccine, called Prevnar, protects against infections caused by streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. These include some types of middle-ear infections, blood poisoning, pneumonia and meningitis.

Infections more common among black children
The infections are more common among blacks, particularly among young children. The disparity has been attributed in part to poverty, less breast-feeding — which can protect against the infections — and sickle cell disease, which disproportionately affects blacks and lowers resistance to the infections.

In 2000, when Prevnar won federal approval, a government advisory committee recommended the vaccine for all children under 2 and for those ages 2 through 4 with certain chronic diseases. Priority was recommended for high-risk groups, including black children.

The recommendations call for four doses between the ages of 2 months and 15 months and a single dose for healthy children ages 2 to 4.

By 2002, 74 percent of white children and 68 percent of black children ages 19 months to 35 months had received at least one dose in seven states the CDC researchers examined: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New York and Oregon.

Prevnar in short supply
The study, led by CDC researcher Brendan Flannery, appears in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

The incidence of pneumococcal infections also declined among adults from 2000 to 2002, suggesting that widespread vaccination helped reduce child-to-adult disease transmission, the researchers said.

“These findings are especially encouraging considering that a vaccine shortage occurred in the second half of 2001 through early 2003,” the researchers said.

Prevnar is again in short supply. In March, the CDC said doctors should only give two of the four recommended doses. The shortage could last until the fall, CDC officials said.

The shortage was attributed in part to production problems at the vaccine’s manufacturer, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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