Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccines: Indications, efficacy and recommendations

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Abstract

Streptococcus pneumoniae is the primary cause of community-acquired pneumonia, meningitis in adults and otitis media in infants and children and the third cause of meningitis in infants and children. Despite the availability of effective therapeutic agents against this pathogen, mortality has remained high, particularly for infections complicated by bacteremia. For many years, there has been a plea for vaccination. The first steps, using whole bacterial vaccines, were taken during the early decades of this century in the gold mining camps of South Africa, where pneumonia was endemic. The efficacy of purified pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccines has since been demonstrated in young adults, such as gold miners and military recruits, as well as for several other groups at risk, such as institutionalized elderly, patients with sickle cell anemia or those who have undergone a splenectomy, and elderly patients with underlying conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic cardiovascular disease, but not in infants and severely immunocompromised patients. Serological studies on the immune response to inoculation of pneumococcal polysaccharide antigens have demonstrated a severely impaired antibody response in the last two groups. Therefore, development of more highly immunogenic vaccines, e.g. by linking pneumococcal polysaccharides or parts of them to protein carriers, should be continued in an attempt to offer adequate protection to those who are insufficiently protected by the current 23-valent polysaccharide vaccine. Opportunities to immunize other patients who are at risk for pneumococcal infection and are capable of responding to the current vaccine should not be missed.