Commentary: Antibiotics use and vaccine antibody levels


This study of antibiotic use in the first 2 years of life in a reasonably standardized primary care office raises issues about antibiotic stewardship that can be the basis for counseling against antibiotics for viral infections or mild uncomplicated acute otitis media (AOM) above 6 months of age. Even unintended and previously undescribed downstream effects of antibiotics should play a role in our decisions and are another nudge toward prudent antibiotic use – for example, watchful waiting (WW) for AOM.

Some families ask for antibiotics for almost any infection while others may want antibiotics only if really necessary. But maybe patient family wishes are not the main driver, considering a report in Pediatrics (2022;150[1]:e2021055613). They analyzed over 2 million AOM episodes from billing/enrollment records from the MarketScan commercial claims research databases. They reported that, despite WW being the management of choice per American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for uncomplicated AOM in children over 1 year of age, WW use had not increased between 2015 and 2019. Further, they noted that WW was not related to patient factors or demographics but was associated with specialty and provider. For example, WW use was five times more likely by otolaryngologists than pediatricians and less likely by nonpediatricians than pediatricians. Further, some clinicians used WW a lot, while others almost not at all (high-volume antibiotic prescribers). Of note, having a fever significantly lowered the chance of WW.

Maturing data on antibiotic-related alterations in species distribution and quantity within children’s microbiome plus potential effects on antibody responses to vaccines are ideas families need to hear. I suggest sharing these as part of anticipatory guidance at well-child checks as early in life as is feasible.

Christopher J. Harrison, MD, is professor, University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine, department of medicine, infectious diseases section, Kansas City. He has no financial conflicts of interest.

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