The American Academy of Pediatrics has launched a new campaign to highlight groundbreaking research that has, over the years, meant so much to the lives and health of children. In an effort to keep pediatric research dollars invested for the benefit of our children:
The campaign, 7 Great Achievements in Pediatric Research, celebrates seven key discoveries over the past 40 years that have saved millions of children’s lives worldwide, from groundbreaking treatments for deadly chronic diseases to life-saving interventions for babies who are born premature.
Each of the seven achievements were made possible through pediatric research and the federal funding that supports it.
“The way pediatricians practice medicine today is made possible by decades of pediatric research,” says AAP President Sandra G. Hassink, M.D. The AAP lists seven great discoveries in pediatric research and connects them to their clinical benefits in medical treatments one-by-one. The first is a no-brainer:
- Preventing Disease with Life-Saving Immunizations
Vaccine research includes developing vaccines in laboratories, testing effectiveness in humans, testing ways to get children vaccinated and reducing barriers to immunizations.
When the vaccine to prevent Haemophilus influenza type B was developed and made available in 1985, the toll on young children was very high. Each year, 20,000 American children, most under the age of five years old, developed invasive disease from this bacteria — meningitis, epiglottitis, pneumonia, cellulitis, septic arthritis, and more. More than 1,200 children died from these terrible infections each year; the lucky ones who survived had to deal with permanent sequela such as blindness, deafness, and cognitive impairments.
The initial vaccine was scrapped in 1988 due to its ineffectiveness in children under 18 months old. A couple of years later — just as I was finishing up my pediatric residency training — the HiB conjugate vaccine became available to young infants and completely changed the practice of pediatrics. Immediately, our approach to managing fevers in infants and young children changed. Especially during those middle-of-the-night phone calls from worried parents, pediatricians could disengage our panic modes and not send every baby with a high fever to the emergency department at Children’s Hospital for what I called the “triad of horror” — blood culture, bladder tap, spinal tap. A decade later, the pneumococcal vaccine (Prevnar) was developed, effectively shutting the door to bacterial meningitis and its terrible consequences in young, healthy children.
Vaccines work. There is no side effect from any vaccine currently given to children that comes close to matching the symptoms and sequela of bacterial meningitis — a real and, until relatively recently, common disease among children.
Tomorrow, we’ll see what else is on the list of the “7 Great Achievements in Pediatric Research” in the last 40 years.