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Pneumococcal Vaccine: What You Need to Know

1. Why get vaccinated?

Infection with Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria can cause serious illness and death. Invasive pneumococcal disease is responsible for about 200 deaths each year among children under 5 years old. It is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in the United States. (Meningitis is an infection of the covering of the brain).

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Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will provide free children’s preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests. Learn more.

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Each year pneumococcal infection causes severe disease in children under five years old, Before a vaccine was available, pneumococcal infection each year caused:

- over 700 cases of meningitis

- 13,000 blood infections, and

- about 5 million ear infections

It can also lead to other health problems, including:

- pneumonia,

- deafness,

- brain damage.

Children under 2 years old are at highest risk for serious disease.

Pneumococcus bacteria are spread from person to person through close contact.

Pneumococcal infections can be hard to treat because the bacteria have become resistant to some of the drugs that have been used to treat them. This makes prevention of pneumococcal infections even more important.

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine can help prevent serious pneumococcal disease, such as meningitis and blood infections. It can also prevent some ear infections. But ear infections have many causes, and pneumococcal vaccine is effective against only some of them.

2. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is approved for infants and toddlers.

Children who are vaccinated when they are infants will be protected when they are at greatest risk for serious disease.

Some older children and adults may get a different vaccine called pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine.

3. Who should get the vaccine and when?

Children under 2 years of age:

- 2 months

- 4 months

- 6 months

- 12 to 15 months

Children who weren't vaccinated at these ages can still get the vaccine. The number of doses needed depends on the child's age. Ask your health care provider for details.

Children between 2 and 5 years of age:

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is also recommended for children between

2 and 5 years old who have not already gotten the vaccine and are at high

risk of serious pneumococcal disease. This includes children who:

- have sickle cell disease,

- have a damaged spleen or no spleen,

- have HIV/AIDS,

- have other diseases that affect the immune system, such as diabetes,

cancer, or liver disease, or who

- take medications that affect the immune system, such as chemotherapy or

steroids, or

- have chronic heart or lung disease.

The vaccine should be considered for all other children under age 5 years, especially those at higher risk of serious pneumococcal disease. This includes children who:

- are under 3 years of age,

- are of Alaska Native, American Indian or African American descent, or

- attend group day care.

The number of doses needed depends on the child's age. Ask your health care provider for more details.

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WebMD Public Information from the CDC

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