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A six-year study co-authored by a University professor has determined that a pneumonia vaccine can be effective in preventing infection in older patients, not just younger ones for whom the vaccine was originally designed. The results of the study appeared in the November 21 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Professor Robert Austrian, chairperson emeritus of the Department of Research Medicine, co-authored the study which involved over 1000 elderly patients from eleven hospitals in Connecticut. The study, led by Yale University Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology Eugene Shapiro in conjunction with the University and the National Institute of Aging, is regarded as important in showing the strengths of the pneumonia vaccine. "There's been a controversy regarding the efficacy of this licensed vaccine," said Shapiro, the primary author of the study. "Our study shows that the vaccine is effective for treatment of the elderly." One of the key conclusions of the study is that the vaccine should be administered more frequently. Only 10 to 20 percent of the "high-risk population" in this country have been immunized, according to Austrian. "With greater use, I know we can save lives," Austrian said yesterday. "The results of this study are quite conclusive in demonstrating that the vaccine can provide protection for older people." The University has been a recognized leader in pneumonia research and has one of only two World Health Organization Collaborating Centers for pneumonia research. The tested pneumonia vaccine is composed of 23 separate vaccines which represent the 23 pneumococcal types which are responsible for 90 percent of all pneumococcal infection. The vaccine is similar to an earlier vaccine which was taken off the market after World War II when penicillin proved effective against some types of pneumonia. However, further studies by the National Institutes of Health found that penicillin was not entirely effective. When the vaccine was relicensed in 1977 some doctors said that although the vaccine was tested effective for young adults, it might not be similarly effective for older people. However, Austrian said the study shows that the vaccine is indeed effective for elderly patients "who are at a greater risk for serious infection and death." Pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death around the world. One of six patients who contract pneumonia may die from infection. In high-risk patients, such as the elderly, the mortality rate rises to 25 to 30 percent.

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