What is the pneumococcal vaccine?

The term pneumococcal commonly referred to the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, is a widespread and serious health threat that affects the upper airways in children and adults. There are more than 90 types of pneumococcus, of which some can cause infections such as ear infections, sinusitis, pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis. Some infections are considered invasive, meaning the germs can move around freely and affect certain areas of the body.

Individuals who are eligible for the pneumococcal vaccine include:

  • Infants
  • Children or adults with certain medical conditions
  • Adults aged 65 or older

Individuals who should not receive the pneumococcal vaccine include:

  • Individuals with a life-threatening reaction to either vaccine
  • Individuals with a severe allergy to either vaccines’ ingredients

The pneumococcal vaccine protects the body from bacteria and has proven effective in preventing serious forms of infection such as blood, brain and lung infections.

What is the pneumococcal vaccine composed of?

Vaccination is the best way to prevent pneumococcal disease. There are two different types of pneumococcal vaccine:

  • 23-valent polysaccharide (PPV23): a vaccine that is received mainly by adults for protection against 23 strains of Streptococcus pneumonia bacteria.  It is made using dead bacteria, though this bacterium does not cause any harm to the individual who is to receive the injection. 
  • 13-valent conjugate (PVC13): a vaccine that is received by infants and children up to 5 years old. It is effective against 13 strains of Streptococcus pneumonia bacteria responsible for most of the more serious infections. It is an inactivated vaccine and conjugated or obtained with fragments of the bacterium and then bound to a protein that is able to increase its effectiveness. PVC13 is administered intramuscularly in the arm in children over the age of 9, and in the anterolateral thigh region in younger children.

When is it recommended to receive the pneumococcal vaccine?

The pneumococcal vaccine can be given at any time of the year. The PVC13 vaccine, widely received by children, is not mandatory though it is offered with the hexavalent vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenza type B) from a children’s third month of age. Three doses are generally administered all in the first year: at 2 months, 4 months and then 12 months of age, with no additional appeals.

The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) is recommended in adults’ ages 19 to 64 with certain medical conditions such as kidney disease, asthma, lung disease, and others (conditions that cause weakening of the immune system). One to two doses should be received at least 5 years apart.

What are the side effects of the pneumococcal vaccine?

The pneumococcal vaccine is generally well tolerated. Within 48 hours of administration, mild symptoms that may occur include the following:

  • Redness at the injection site
  • Pain at the injection site
  • Swelling
  • Fever
  • Muscle pain
  • Skin rash

Like all vaccines, there is the possibility of serious problems occurring, such as meningitis, bacteremia, pneumonia, ear infections. There is also the possibility of severe allergic reactions such as dizziness, hives, high fever, behavior changes, and rapid heartbeat. Although rare, there are such cases that may present themselves and can result in death or long-term problems, such as brain damage or hearing loss.