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New Pneumonia Vaccine Shows Promise

A new vaccine against a bacterium that causes pneumonia, meningitis and blood infections could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in the developing world each year. The vaccine was tested on young children in the West African nation of Gambia. It was found to reduce overall childhood mortality by 16 percent. There were other benefits as well. On Friday, scientists talked about their findings in Washington, D.C.

Pneumococcal pneumonia and meningitis cause about 1.6 million deaths each year, largely in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Most of the victims are children. But, there's a new vaccine with promising results. It was tested in Gambia on more than 17,000 infants from 2000 to 2004, and was nearly 80 percent effective. This could be a major breakthrough forward in public health.

"There was a 37 percent reduction in the incidence of x-ray proven pneumonia, " says the author of the study, Dr. Nathaniel Pierce from John Hopkins School of Public Health. "This is a remarkable and huge reduction."

This study is the first major vaccine trial in nearly 20 years to show a significant reduction in childhood mortality by a single vaccine. The vaccine had other positive effects also.

Dr. Pierce says, "The vaccine reduced admissions to hospitals - for any cause - by 15 percent, that is, approximately one out of every six admissions was avoided by a single intervention of this vaccine."

He also says the fact that the vaccine was able to reduce mortality among children in a rural African setting is important, because this shows it will probably be able to do the same in other parts of the developed and developing world.