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Pneumococcal Vaccine

For more than 30 years, there has been a vaccine that can safely prevent pneumococcal disease, a serious infection caused by a bacterium known as Streptococcus pneumoniae. But the PPSV vaccine (pneumococcal polysaccharide) cannot be used for the part of the population that is most vulnerable to the disease:- children under the age of 2. Without the protection of a vaccine, infants and very young children are at higher risk for several dangerous infections, including pneumonia and bacterial meningitis.

In 2000, however, the FDA licensed PCV (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine), a vaccine that's safe and effective for use in young children under the age of 2. In 2010, a newer version called PCV13 was introduced. Here is information about these vaccines to help you make informed decisions about protecting the health of your children as well as your own.

Did You Know?

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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What Is Pneumococcal Disease?

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae or pneumococcus. People can be infected with the bacteria, carry it in their throat, and not be ill. But they can still spread it, primarily in droplets from their nose or mouth when they breathe, cough, or sneeze.

Depending on what organ or part of the body is infected, pneumococcal disease will cause any of several serious illnesses, including:

  • Bacterial meningitis, an infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord that can lead to confusion, coma, and death as well as other physical effects, such as blindness or paralysis.
  • Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs and a common bacterial complication of influenza otitis media, a middle ear infection that can cause pain, swelling, sleeplessness, fever, and irritability.
  • Bacteremia, a dangerous infection of the blood stream.
  • Sinus infections.

There are more than 6,000 deaths each year in the U.S. as a result of pneumococcal disease. More than half of those deaths are in adults who, according to CDC recommendations, should have been vaccinated.

In children under the age of 5, infection with the pneumococcus bacteria results in approximately 480 cases of meningitis and 4,000 cases of bacteremia or other invasive infection per year. A major problem in very young children is that the classic symptoms of meningitis and pneumonia are often not present, making the disease hard to recognize.

Are Both Pneumococcal Vaccines Safe?

Both vaccines are safe. As with any medicine there is always the possibility of a serious problem, such as an allergic reaction. But with PCV (the vaccine recommended for young children) and PPSV (the vaccine for adults and older children), the risk of serious harm or death is extremely small.

In studies involving nearly 60,000 doses of the PCV vaccine, there have been no moderate or severe reactions. The mild side effects included:

  • Redness, tenderness, or swelling where the shot is given in about one out of every four infants
  • Fever higher than 100.4 F in about one out of every three infants
  • Fever higher than 102.2 F in about one out of every 50 children
  • Occasional incidence of fussiness, drowsiness, or loss of appetite

About one out of every two adults who receive the PPSV vaccine experiences redness or pain where the shot is given. Less than 1% have a more severe reaction, such as a fever or muscle aches.

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