Future vaccine may prevent ear infections

A new vaccine that may someday prevent ear infections (otitis media) in children is currently in the works. The vaccine is still a ways out from being tested on children, but the results on chinchillas have been promising so far.

Photo courtesy Tandem Racer
Photo courtesy Tandem Racer

The needleless vaccine, developed by Dr. Lauren Bakaletz, a researcher at Nationwide Children’s hospital, is administered by way of a drop of liquid rubbed into the skin on the outside of the ear.

Dr. Bakaletz says it works by activating cells just under the surface of the skin, called dendritic cells. When this liquid touches the skin, it touches off a response throughout the body.

“These cells deliver it to the lymphoid organs where it can generate an immune response. So really harnessing a power that’s there all the time, but you’re doing it in a way that’s now directed toward a specific disease,” says Dr. Bakaletz.

It seems only natural that moms, especially those of young children, are having some strong reactions to the news of this possible future vaccine. Some of the those I’ve seen from moms thus far include excitement and curiosity, as well as disbelief, frustration and cynicism.

An anonymous commenter on News Anchor Mom said, “Don’t you think we should be looking into the CAUSES of these ear infections rather than just adding yet ANOTHER vaccine to the list? Neither one of my children have ever had an ear infection. They are now 4 and 2.”

Karissa, another commenter, said, “Wow! What an ingenious idea! I am always leery of giving more vaccines but ear infections are the worst! It seemed like for years one of my three kids always had one. The kids were miserable, and couldn’t sleep or eat. … I’m interested to see what happens with this.”

Yet another commenter, Emily from Randomability said, “This sounds promising and it doesn’t go into the ear either. My only concern would be long term side effects.”

Catherine Morgan shares a lot of the same thoughts and concerns that I have regarding this vaccine and vaccines in general and wonders how many is too many.

I wonder how many pharmaceutical companies are bothering to invest in research to actually cure diseases that kill children? Because, why should they bother wasting money on cures for drugs that only a small fraction of children will ever need (buy), when they can make billions on new vaccines for non-life threatening illnesses that can be sold to every child?

Regardless of how you feel about autism, food allergies, or processed foods…When it comes right down to it, pharmaceutical companies are making vaccines that they believe can be most profitable for their companies. I think there comes a time when we (the parents and the consumers) need to decide that we don’t need to vaccinate every child for every illness that they may or may not get.

The thing is our immune systems need to develop by actually fighting off these infections, viruses and diseases on their own. We are already becoming a society with more and more people suffering with auto-immune diseases (like MS, Lupus, Diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, Arthritis, Celiac Disease, just to name a few). Personally, I would rather risk my child coming down with the flu, the chicken pox or an ear infection and fighting it off now, than risk their immune system failing them when they really need it later.

Is there a vaccine that we would ever say no to?

A vaccine to end conjunctivitis (pink eye)?
A vaccine to prevent poison ivy?
A vaccine to prevent runny noses or sore throats?
A vaccine to end diaper rash?

Where do we draw the line? How many vaccines is too many?

Interestingly enough, I first learned about this vaccine via an email that was sent to me from a media relations specialist (MRS). She mentioned that she could put me in touch with Dr. Bakaletz so I took her up on her offer and sent her a list of questions that I and other women (both bloggers and non-bloggers) came up with. Some of the questions included:

  • What are the possible side effects of the vaccine? – asked by Beth of The Natural Mommy
  • Who will be the manufacturer of this vaccine?
  • What are the ingredients?
  • Could this vaccine create resistant strains like antibiotics do? – also asked by Beth of The Natural Mommy
  • What are you trying to prevent with the ear infection vaccine – ear infections, the number of children who need tubes in their ears or deafness? – asked by Kayris of Great Walls of Baltimore and Kate

The response I got from the MRS was that the questions were “a bit too detailed for Dr. Bakaletz to answer given where she’s at in the development of her vaccine at this point.” However, she encouraged me to submit some more general questions, so I said:

  • I’d love to know how long the vaccine will be tested (on animals and humans) before it is deemed safe for public use and/or if she knows what the possible side effects are.
  • What prompted her to pursue making an ear infection vaccine?

Again, I was told, “Unfortunately Dr. Bakaletz couldn’t answer your specific questions.” However, she did forward on to me some general information from Dr. Bakaletz. This response left me a bit frustrated and wondering why I was told I could be put in touch with the doctor in the first place.

Whether you are excited about the prospect of this vaccine or not, it will not likely be available any time soon. Dr. Bakaletz notes, “most vaccines have taken 25-30 years from discovery to development, so I can’t really predict how soon the transcutaneous vaccine would be available since we’re still so early in terms of our experience with this vaccination approach.”

In the meantime, children will continue to get ear infections and treating them with antibiotics is not always (in fact, not usually) the best course of treatment. According to this recent Health News article, “Repeated use of antibiotics to treat acute ear infections in young children increases the risk of recurrent ear infections by 20 percent, according to researchers in the Netherlands who called for more prudent use of antibiotics in young children. … Antibiotics may reduce the length and severity of the initial ear infection, but may also result in a higher number of recurrent infections and antibiotic resistance, the researchers stated. Because of this, they said, doctors need to be careful in their use of antibiotics in children with ear infections.” You can read the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for treating ear infections here, which include:

  • Minimize antibiotic side effects by giving parents of select children the option of fighting the infection on their own for 48-72 hours, then starting antibiotics if they do not improve.
  • Encourage families to prevent AOM (acute otitis media) by reducing risk factors. For babies and infants these include breastfeeding for at least six months, avoiding “bottle propping,” and eliminating exposure to passive tobacco smoke.

SafBaby also suggests parents of children who suffer from ear infections might want to look into chiropractic care as an alternative to antibiotics.

Cross-posted at BlogHer.

24 thoughts on “Future vaccine may prevent ear infections”

  1. Well, I know I’m not in the majority but I definitely think there is a link to childhood vaccines and ear infections. With each vaccine, the immune system is compromised and children are just more sick over all. More colds, more coughs, more croup, more allergies, more ear infections, more lots of things.

    So, a vaccine that could protect what another vaccine could cause. Makes perfect sense!

    (Please note severe sarcasm.)

    I do HIGHLY recommend, if your child suffers from ear infections or other mucous-causing allergies, colds, etc… eliminate dairy and see how they are within two weeks.


  2. Let me translate the PR person’s response: “I’m sorry, your questions indicate that you’re not completely ecstatic about this new vaccine so we’re not interested in talking to you. We wanted you to toss us a softball so that I could write a BS response about how wonderful the doctor and vaccine are.”

  3. How could the Dr. not answer what prompted her to do this research? I can understand being worried about trade secrets or something with the ingredients… but why be told you can ask questions if you can never ask questions that will get answers. Strange.

    I’ve never had an ear infection, but I do know people who have had lots and lots of problems with them. This is interesting research, but I’m not going to worry about it until it’s actually on the market. Who has the time to worry about all this stuff? 🙂

  4. From what I understand, the existing Pc vaccine, while theoretically intended to prevent more severe forms of pneumococcal disease, is given, in practice, to help prevent ear infections. I don’t know why they need another one, unless they are tired of fielding criticism for the high side effect rate of the current Pc vax “Prevnar”?

    Hm. Well I feel the same way about this as I do about the flu shot and the chicken pox vaccine. The virus itself isn’t typically serious, and is instead quite common. I can’t see risking the short- and long-term side effects over a mainly harmless illness, in which the risk of serious harm or death is negligible in the first place.

  5. Normally I agree with your responses/posts almost 100%; however, this time I have to confess to a disagreement.

    I think that a key point may be the length of time to develop a vaccine. At up to 25 years out they may honestly have NO idea who will manufacture the vaccine and or what the side effects might be. I think the primary reason for the vaccine is that at this time we do not have good treatment options — she is clearly against over using or misusing antibiotics, which is good. She also acknowledges that over using or misusing antibiotics can lead to re-curing ear infections, and it is the severe and re-curing infections that can lead to deafness. So in one sense I think her response answers your questions to the best of their current ability.

    As for the ingredients, if her formula/research has yet to be patented, she would not want to release even an inkling of what she may be doing. Drug companies are notorious for stealing and or infringing on patents — who knows, she just may be in this to improve lives, like many doctors are and she does not want an unscrupulous drug company to jump on a half tested product and run!

    At the same time — I too think that it might be more important/more pertinent to look at the cause of ear infections. So far, I am lucky to say that my son has none, but I have a friend right now whose babe has a double infection that is not responding to antibiotics and she is about at the end of her rope!

  6. I hear ya, Alison.

    I *now* understand why she was unable to answer some of the questions. But at the time I was told about the vaccine and given the chance to get in touch w/ her, I did not know how early they were in the vaccine development. That kind of information would have been helpful to me so that I didn’t waste so much time coming up with unanswerable questions and asking others to do the same. The time frame for developing a vaccine wasn’t shared with me until after I asked my last set of questions. So, yes, I’m still frustrated that I was encouraged to ask questions, but none were ultimately answered.

    I also get that she couldn’t tell me all of the ingredients, but part of the way I worded my questions was to find out if there were certain things in it (that are found in many traditional vaccines). “Traditional vaccines contain ingredients such as formaldehyde, thimerosal, human diploid cells from aborted fetal tissue, aluminum phosphate, ammonium sulfate, monosodium glutamate, etc. Does this vaccine contain any of those ingredients or ones of similar nature?”


  7. I find it disturbing that she would not answer all of the questions. We have chosen to only selectively vaccinate our son, and have been avoiding most of the new and (in my opinion) unnecessary vaccines. However, for some kids, like my niece, ear infections can be debilitating. She has had numerous surgeries and has a hearing loss (despite every attempt at natural treatments such as dietary changes, acupuncture, alternative medicine, etc.) I feel like we should never take a one-size-fits-all approach to ANY issue.

  8. You know, I’m a pretty laid-back person. Live and let live. Whatever.

    But I have to say NOTHING gets me fired up like Big Pharma.

    I’ll save the vitriol and simply say my feet are firmly in the cynical and skeptical camp.

    And yet, that’s easy for me to say. My oldest only had one ear infection in her life and AJ has had none. I think if my children were prone to chronic ear infections, i might have a different perspective.

    Great article, Amy. Thanks for researching it and putting it together for us!

  9. I have to agree with some of your commenters that mentioned let’s find out the “why” some kids get ear infections and others don’t before another vaccine is produced.

    My youngest son was breastfeed until 3, never had a bottle, and rarely ate dairy products, and had tubes twice in his ears since his ear infections were so bad. Any clues why?

    Great article.

  10. My children have both been vaccinated according to the traditional schedule and both have received vaccines for chicken pox and the flu. It’s a decision we made after much research and personal reflection. And while I understand the “what’s next?” point, I do believe there can be value in developing ways to treat and/or prevent something that strikes a large percentage of children. For example, while my son was too old to receive the rotavirus vaccine, my daughter got it, and our pediatrician said the vaccine has drastically reduced the number of sick children they see per winter with persistent diarrhea and drastically reduced the number of children hospitalized for dehydration/organ failure from diarrhea.

    But while a large number of my friends have children with recurrent ear infections and/or ear tubes, I’m uncomfortable with the idea that a new ear infection vaccine could be required in the current parade of vaccines. My older child has had one ear infection in his 5 years, following a nasty cold as an infant, and my younger child has never had one. Ear infections seem to run in some families, and they seem to NOT run in mine. So how would I handle such a vaccine when my kids don’t really need it? How will doctors identify children who ARE at risk for repeated infections and those that could benefit from a vaccine?

    A coworker recently took her 7 month old baby to the doctor, and since she had been ill and was behind on her vaccines, the doctor gave her SIX vaccines all at once. I was shocked!

    Plus, with each new vaccine, I feel like a parents ability to choose what level to vaccinate their children is eroded. I’m definitely in favor of many of the vaccines, but not at all in favor of the HPV vaccine being required for school, as some states have tried to do.

  11. I can totally understand people being hesitant and wanting to know more information. I can also understand parents not wanting a new vaccine.
    I have a child with a hearing loss. She has lost all hearing on one side and has a mild loss on the other. She has had three set of tubes. We have done everything that I know how to do to keep her healthy. I breastfed for 18 months, we limit dairy, etc. Her ears are still a major issue. While a bit leary, I am excited about the possibility that the vaccine can bring. It may not be for everyone. I think all vaccines should be optional, and that parents need to be informed. This one excites me!

  12. Oh for heavens sake! What else are they going to create a vaccine for? Bad breath? Bad aches? Give me a break.

    One needs to know WHY children/adults have ear infection… get to the source… don’t try and cover it up with a needless vaccine.

    In my case it was an overgrowth of candida… something so simple. Change of the diet and it all went away.

    But for months these MD’s gave me antibiotic after antibiotic and it only made matters worse.



  13. We find that chiropractic care eliminated our 2 year olds frequent ear infections, which then never came back and he’s now 4 yrs old. (Doctor in the states would only prescribe amoxicilian which we won’t touch)….The adjustments were mild and easy on my son.

    Our 5 year old daughter suffers from terrible allergies and asthma (my other 2 children have zero problems with these)…, and our chiropractor is treating her for those ailments. I live in England with National healthcare now, and our Family Doctor prescribes the chiropractic care versus prescribing pills, which I found myself amazed at.

  14. My good friend’s son had chronic ear infections. He was always sick. Always. They tried everything–antibiotics, stronger antibiotics, dietary changes for her (she did breast feed for 1 year, and her son has a twin sister), dietary changes for him, and tubes at the end. The first three years of his life were a living hell for him and for her. He suffers speech and hearing issues. She lost one job and had to quit another because he could not stay at day care. The culprit in his case–and in the case of many children–was horizontal tubes. He was structurally prone to bacterial overgrowth.

    I’ve never heard of an ear infection killing a child. However, multiply the economic impact of ear infections and you have a billion-dollar problem. Having a vaccine against the bacteria that grows in the ear, and a non-systemic vaccine at that, could offer relief to millions of children, reduce infection-caused developmental issues and the costs on our government, our schools and our families for solving those issues, not to mention keep kids in school and parents at work.

    I highly doubt that this vaccine will ever be required. But to make it available for children who would benefit from it is a critical public health issue.

  15. The worst part about all this is that vaccines become mandated and we get forced to give them in order for kids to go to school.

    I’m just waiting for the law to say girls “have to” get the HPV vaccine.

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