Health care gap decreases as new vaccine emerges

Public health experts report in a study a vaccine that prevents pneumonia, meningitis and ear infections is reducing those invasive conditions among black children and closing a long-existing health care gap.

Historically, the incidence of infections with the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae has been significantly higher in black children than in white. The microbe causes a range of illnesses from pneumonia to blood infections. Some infections can be lethal, reports

Why blacks in the United States have suffered disproportionately from such diseases in the past is not known, the authors said.

The report, published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, said the reductions were all the more remarkable because the vaccine, Prevnar, has been in short supply.

Wyeth is the sole manufacturer of the vaccine, which protects against several different strains of pneumococcal bacteria. Supply problems have continued, prompting the government earlier this year to tell doctors to temporarily cut back the vaccination schedule to two shots instead of four until things ease up, informs

According to a new vaccine for children, Prevnar, was recommended in October 2000. Before the vaccine's release, blacks had a 2.9 times higher risk of contracting pneumonia and meningitis than whites; afterwards, that risk dropped to 2.2 times higher, according to the study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The risk among black children younger than 2 dropped from 3.3 times higher than white children to 1.6 times higher.

Researchers found that from 1998 to 2002, annual disease rates decreased from 19 to 12.1 cases per 100,000 among whites and from 54.9 to 26.5 cases per 100,000 among blacks.

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