The term pneumococcal vaccine or pneumonia vaccine are often used interchangeably. These vaccines are given in the form of injections against the pneumococcal disease.
Any infection caused by bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus) is called pneumococcal disease. These infectious diseases can affect the ears, sinuses, lungs, meninges, or even spread into the blood to cause widespread septicemia (when infection spreads into the blood).
Pneumococcal vaccine may save you from hospitalization as it is not effective against all cases of pneumococcal disease. However, getting vaccinated lowers your chances of getting infected. It also helps decrease the intensity of disease signs and symptoms.
The Different Types Of Pneumococcal Vaccines
There are two types of pneumococcal vaccines. The appropriate type of vaccine depends on your age and health conditions, some of which include:
- Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13)
The PCV13 protects against 13 of the most severe types of pneumococcus bacteria, including the one that causes pneumonia. It is available under the brand name of Prevenar 13
- Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV or PPSV23)
These types of vaccines protects against an additional 23 types of pneumococcus bacteria
Who Should Get The Vaccine?
The Center for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) recommends PCV13 for
- Young children aged two years or below
- People aged two years and older with specific medical conditions
The elderly who are 65 years or older should discuss with their physician on whether or not to get vaccinated with PCV13. Babies usually receive this vaccine as part of their childhood immunization program early on.
CDC’s recommendations for PPSV23 vaccination include:
- Adults aged 65 years or more
- People aged 2 to 64 years old suffering from specific medical conditions
- Smokers aged nineteen to 64 years
The PPSV vaccine is not very effective for children under the age of 2. Also, individuals who work at sites where the risk of occupational hazards are high should get vaccinated with the pneumococcal vaccine. These may include welders, people dealing with industrial chemicals, or people working in the coal industry.
Getting vaccinated against pneumonia requires two shots. First the PCV13 followed by the PPSV23 a year after. Majority of people get life-long benefits from these two vaccines. Your doctor may advise you as to whether you need a booster shot or not.What is a booster shot? It is a pneumonia vaccine that is given to people at high risk of contracting the pneumococcal infection. These include individuals suffering from:
- Chronic respiratory disease as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, emphysema & asthma
- Any disease condition of the spleen or have had a splenectomy
- Chronic liver disease as cirrhosis
- Long-standing kidney malfunctions
- Cardiovascular disease, specifically congenital defects of the heart
- Metabolic syndromes as diabetes
- Immunocompromised health states as HIV
- Post-chemotherapy or patients on long-term steroid medications
- An injury involving leakage of cerebrospinal fluid
Patients receiving an organ transplant should also be vaccinated with the pneumonia vaccine because their risk of hospital-acquired infection is high. Similarly, people who smoke or consume alcohol have low immune levels and thus need vaccination with the pneumonia shot.
How Does The Pneumonia Vaccine Work?
Both the pneumococcal vaccines protect against pneumonia. They do not contain any live organisms; that is why they are called killed vaccines. The vaccines work by encouraging the body to produce antibodies against the pneumococcus bacteria.
Antibodies are proteins that help neutralize infectious agents if they enter the body. As we age, our immune system does not remain as vigilant as it was in younger years. So that is why the elderly and people with compromised or low immune levels (such as in smokers or heavy drinkers) require a pneumonia vaccine.
There are more than 90 different strains of the pneumococcal bacterium identified to date. Not all of them cause serious infections. The PCV vaccine protects against thirteen strains of the pneumococcal bacteria while the PPV combats twenty-three strains. The response rate of children to PCV is excellent, while the PPV vaccine’s effectiveness remains about 50-70%.
Are There Any Side Effects To The Vaccine?
Both types of Pneumonia vaccines are generally safe but may cause mild side effects such as:
- Redness at the injection site
- Slight swelling at the site of injection
- Mild fever
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling of tiredness
The PCV shot given to babies may cause:
- Sleep disturbance
- Decreased appetite showed by feeding difficulty
- A slightly raised temperature, which rarely may become high enough to cause convulsions
- The allergic reaction at the site of injection indicated by red itchy skin rash
Allergic Reactions To The Vaccine?
All vaccines carry a risk of an allergic reaction, especially if administered for the first time. The same holds for either type of pneumonia or pneumococcal vaccine. Though rare, a child or adult may show signs of a serious allergic reaction, called an anaphylactic reaction. Some of the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Shallow but fast breathing indicating difficulty in breathing
- Light-headedness and feeling of faintness
- Rapid heartbeat
- Collapsing or a loss of consciousness
Anaphylaxis is rare, but the condition is so severe that it can lead to severe breathing difficulties within minutes of injection with fatal results if not treated in time. That is it is always recommended that vaccines be administered at a healthcare facility under a medical expert’s supervision.
Contraindications For The Pneumonia Vaccine
Some cases may call for a delay in vaccination or complete avoidance. These include:
- If you or your child have a previous history of an allergic reaction to a vaccine or any other allergen, avoid the vaccine altogether
- If you or your child suffers from fever or any other illness, delay the vaccination
- In the case of pregnant women or a breastfeeding mother, vaccination should be delayed unless urgently required