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THREE NEW VACCINES FOR JUNIOR




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  7. VACCINES FOR ADULT DISEASES

Two childhood illnesses — chicken pox and meningitis — may soon go the way of measles, diphtheria and polio as new vaccines reach the market in the next year or two. And a third new vaccine, against pertussis (whooping cough), could soon quell fears about adverse reactions associated with the current DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus) vaccine.

At the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics in New Orleans, pediatricians will be told that a chicken-pox vaccine at last has tested safe and effective and should be available in two years. The vaccine, against the varicella virus, would protect some 3,5 million young Americans who come down with chicken pox each year.

The illness usually hits between ages 5 and 10 — bringing fever, aches and a rash — and lasts a week. It also strikes adults, in whom the vaccine appears less effective in limited studies so far. A bigger problem: It is not known how long immunity lasts. The vaccine is still protecting kids in Japan after eight years of widespread use—a promising sign, says Dr. Alan Hinman, director of immunization programs at the Centers for Disease Control. If immunity wanes, periodic booster shots may solve the problem. "Parents will certainly be eager for this vaccine", Hinman predicts.

A new vaccine against hemophilus influenza type В — a bacterium that causes 12000 cases of meningitis and 7000 cases of other serious complications in infants each year — is also sure to ease parents' minds. A vaccine exists now that protects children aged 2 and older from the bacteria, but it is ineffective in younger kids, who account for 80 percent of cases. The new vaccine, being tested in Finland and Alaska, has proved effective in kids under 2. It's expected to be available by the end of 1988 — possibly sooner.

The new pertussis vaccine causes fewer minor adverse reactions, such as fever and swelling at the injection site,-than the current


DPT vaccine, studies show. More important: A version of the new vaccine, used in Japan since 1981 and being tested in Sweden and the U.S., appears to cause fewer cases of permanent brain damage and mental retardation. Brain damage occurs in 1 out of every 340000 children who get the current vaccine ~— about 50 per year in the United States. Untreated whooping cough produces 10 times as much brain damage as the vaccine. Mortality is highest among infants.



One defect in the Japanese data is that kids there get the vaccine at .age 2, and the risk of the disease is highest in the first year of life. U.S. officials now eagerly await the outcome of a Swedish study of 3000 6-month-old children who were given the newer vaccine a year ago.

Even if results look good, however, Japanese vaccine makers are fearful about applying for licensing in the United States. The reason: Liability. But Congress went a long way toward solving that problem for all vaccine makers when it authorized an excise tax on the DPT, measles, mumps and polio vaccines for a fund to cover the expenses of children who suffer serious side effects of vaccination.


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