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Children's Vaccines Health Center

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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 age 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.

However, the FDA has licensed PCV (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine), a vaccine that's safe and effective for use in children under age 2. More recently, 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.

Health Insurance Center

What Is Pneumococcal Disease?

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae or pneumococcus. People can be infected with the bacteria, or they can carry it in their throat, and not be ill. Those carriers 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 age 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.

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