Research Shows Possibility of Vaccine for Ear Infections

July 1, 2009

Otitis media, more commonly known as an ear infection, is the most frequently diagnosed illness in children less than 15 years of age in the United States and is the primary cause for emergency room visits. More than 80 percent of children will experience at least one ear infection before their third birthday. Much research has been dedicated to preventing this common childhood disease at Nationwide Childrens Hospital.

A new study could introduce a pain-free vaccination strategy that works against ear infections developed by Lauren Bakaletz, PhD, director of the Center for Microbial Pathogenesis in The Research Institute at Nationwide Childrens Hospital in collaboration with John Clements, PhD, at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.

Ear infections are typically treated through antibiotics or, if they occur often enough, through surgery. The emergence of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms and the invasive nature of the surgical procedure raise the need to develop different ways to treat or, preferably, prevent ear infections, said Dr. Bakaletz, who is also a faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

The data from researchers at Nationwide Childrens is the first to show immunization as an effective way to prevent ear infections. The vaccine was recently tested by placing a droplet of formula on the outer ears of chinchillas and then rubbed into the skin. Dr. Bakaletz said that it was extremely effective, and that her research team is excited about the ability to immunize without needles.

The vaccine works by activating cells which can be found just under the surface of the skin. When the liquid touches the skin the cells deliver the vaccine to the lymphoid organs where it can generate an immune response rapidly reducing or eliminating NTHI, one of the bacteria commonly responsible for ear infections, from the nose and ears.

These studies lay the foundation for an effective, yet simple, inexpensive and potentially transformative way to deliver vaccines, said Dr. Bakaletz.  Its our hope the method of applying the vaccine to the skin will allow us to distribute it to some of the poorest children in the world.

In addition to protecting against ear infections, this research could have important implications for the prevention of other diseases of the respiratory tract caused by NTHI.

About Nationwide Children's Hospital

Named to the Top 10 Honor Roll on U.S. News & World Report’s 2019-20 list of “Best Children’s Hospitals,” Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of America’s largest not-for-profit freestanding pediatric health care systems providing wellness, preventive, diagnostic, treatment and rehabilitative care for infants, children and adolescents, as well as adult patients with congenital disease. Nationwide Children’s has a staff of more than 13,000 providing state-of-the-art pediatric care during more than 1.5 million patient visits annually. As home to the Department of Pediatrics of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Nationwide Children’s physicians train the next generation of pediatricians and pediatric specialists. The Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of the Top 10 National Institutes of Health-funded freestanding pediatric research facilities. More information is available at