Kids under age two have 20 percent fewer painful ear infections now that pneumococcal vaccination is routine.

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The finding comes from a Vanderbilt/CDC study that looked at data from kids' visits to doctors' offices, emergency rooms, and outpatient clinics. Carlos G. Grijalva, MD, MPH, and colleagues measured the effect of the 2000 introduction of a pneumococcal vaccine on cases of otitis media -- the agonizing middle ear infections that distress infants and frighten parents.

Pneumococcal bacteria cause 30 percent to 55 percent of kids' ear infections. More than four out of five kids get at least one ear infection by the age of 3. It's the most common reason doctors give antibiotic drugs to children.

"Our results suggest a significant protective effect of the [pneumococcal] vaccination program in the U.S. outpatient setting, with a substantial decline in otitis media visit rates," Grijalva and colleagues report.

It's likely the study underestimates the true effect of the vaccine. That's because the study included a time when the vaccine was in short supply, as well as a year when the vaccine didn't match the strain of pneumococcal bug U.S. kids were getting.

Pneumococcal bacteria also cause dangerous pneumonia in children. Grijalva's team did not find a decrease in cases of childhood pneumonia linked to pneumococcal vaccination. They suggest this is because they looked at outpatient doctor visits rather than hospitalizations.

The study appears in the Sept. 5 issue of the journal Pediatrics.

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SOURCE: Grijalva, C.S. Pediatrics, Sept. 5, 2006; vol 118: pp 865-873.