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Infants and children may soon have another line of protection against potentially life-threatening infections.

Protecting Against Pneumococcal Disease

The Food and Drug Administration recently gave priority review to a vaccine that can protect against invasive pneumocccal disease. The new vaccine is specifically targeted for children aged six weeks through 17 years.

Pneumococcal bacteria spreads through respiratory fluids like saliva and mucus. The bacteria can travel to different parts of the body. When it gets into “sterile sites” such as blood or certain body fluids, including those in the spine or joints, it’s called invasive pneumococcal disease.

The first vaccines against invasive pneumococcal disease were introduced more than 15 years ago, yet it continues to be a leading cause of illness and death among children, prompting calls for new, more effective options.

The most recent vaccine in review targets 15 pneumococcal strains that contribute to a substantial portion of disease in young children.

While the development and priority review of a new vaccine is worth celebrating, it’s just the first step of many that will need to be completed before children can benefit from its protection.

Getting on the Vaccine Schedule

After earning federal approval from the Food and Drug Administration, vaccines are reviewed by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The committee, made of medical and public health experts, recommends the vaccine schedule for children and adults.

The committee considers an immense amount of information, including safety and effectiveness data, before making its decisions. Every vaccine for every age group requires a detailed review. These experts have had a tremendous workload vetting coronavirus vaccines very quickly. They should be commended for their expeditious reviews throughout the public health emergency.

That said, the ongoing pandemic doesn’t negate that patients are still falling ill from other severe and life-threatening respiratory conditions. So, it’s important that the committee continue to complete timely reviews of other vaccines once they earn FDA approval.

The new vaccine for invasive pneumococcal disease, for example, is anticipated to receive approval in April. It would be ideal, then, for the committee to take up that vaccine for a vote during the regularly scheduled June meeting.

Even with ongoing pandemic-related demands, children’s advocates are hopefully optimistic that the committee will take up its review of the vaccine for invasive pneumococcal disease without unnecessary delay.

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