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Introducing the pneumococcal vaccine to the UK childhood schedule is likely to cut the rates of antibiotic resistance dramatically, new research suggests.

US researchers recorded a sharp decline in infections with resistant bacteria after the vaccine was introduced in 2000. They concluded vaccination could be a powerful strategy for combating resistance.

In the UK Government advisers have welcomed the findings, which come as the NHS prepares to introduce the vaccine to the childhood schedule in the next two years.

Researchers from Emory University Hospital in Florida traced cases of macrolide resistance in Streptococcus pneumoniae before and after introduction of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in children.

Cases of resistance rose prior to the vaccine's introduction but dropped sharply afterwards, from 9.3 per 100,000 population in 1999 to 2.9 per 100,000 in 2002.

Study leader Professor David Stephens said the fall in resistance had occurred because the decline in pneumoccal disease had reduced the potential for transmission.

Dr David Livermore, a member of the Government's standing advisory committee on antimicrobial resistance, said giving pneumococcal vaccine to children in the UK could have a 'positive effect'.

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