All You Need To Know About Pneumococcal Vaccine

Are you wondering if your baby should get a pneumococcal vaccine shot or not? Make an informed decision after reading this article.

By Dr Senthil Kumar

All You Need To Know About Pneumococcal Vaccine

Parents may sometimes have reservations about ‘excess’ vaccination of their children and wonder if certain vaccines have the efficacy to protect their little ones. But, it is a fact that vaccines can prevent dangerous infections that can be fatal in both adults and children.

One such vaccine is the pneumococcal vaccine, which is administered to protect against pneumococcal disease. It is an infection caused by the bacteria, Streptococcus pneumoniae, also called pneumococcus. When this bacteria attacks the lungs, it can cause pneumonia. 

What is pneumonia?  

Pneumonia is an airborne infection, which is contagious. In pneumonia, the air sacs in the lungs fill up with fluids or pus. Because of this, the body is unable to carry oxygen through the bloodstream. Various bacteria, viruses or fungi cause pneumonia. Children aged five and below are at the highest risk of developing pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia can also result in dreaded diseases like meningitis, septicemia and severe ear infections.

Symptoms of pneumonia

Pneumonia may begin with a cold, along with a sore throat; but when fluids fill the lungs, it can cause high-grade fever, difficulty in breathing, poor intake, and various other problems. As soon as you notice any of the symptoms associated with this infection in your child, it is essential to seek medical help. 

Prevention 

Since the prevention of these infections is much more effective than the treatment, it is necessary to ensure that your child gets a shot of the pneumococcal vaccination at the earliest. The pneumococcal vaccine is effective and protects children from infections caused by the pneumococcus bacteria. 

There are two types of vaccines that help prevent pneumococcal diseases, the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine.

Who should receive the pneumococcal vaccine?

All healthy infants below two years and adults above 65 years should receive the pneumonia vaccine to protect them from this harmful infection.

The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV10 and PCV13) is recommended for infants as well as toddlers. 

The pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPSV23) vaccine is administered to adults and children. This vaccine is mainly recommended for those aged two to sixty-four, who suffer from certain other health conditions and have weak immune systems.

Most healthy children have a good chance of resisting the infection. However, those with a weak immune system are at a higher risk of contracting pneumonia.

If your child has the following conditions, it indicates a higher susceptibility to infection:

  • Sickle cell disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • AIDS/HIV
  • A cochlear implant
  • Liver disease
  • Lung disease
  • Heart disease
  • Damaged spleen
  • Cerebrospinal fluid leak
  • Congenital immunodeficiency

It is necessary to get your child vaccinated immediately if she suffers from the conditions mentioned above. The dosage and timing of this vaccine may vary from patient to patient.

The recommended age to receive the pneumococcal vaccine

  • Four doses of conjugated vaccine (PCV10/PCV13) are recommended for any infant below two years.
  • The infant should receive the first shot when he is six weeks old, the second at ten weeks, the third at 14 weeks and the booster shot at twelve to fifteen months of age.

How often does your child need to get the pneumonia vaccine?

  • Regular re-vaccination is not required except for patients with a higher risk of developing the disease.
  • High-risk children in the 2–6 years age group need to receive one dose of PCV13 after their primary schedule with pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPSV23) or two doses, if primary vaccination is not given; for children in the 6–18 years age group, a single dose of PCV13 is recommended, if not vaccinated previously.
  • In children more than two years of age, PPSV23 should be given at least eight weeks after the last dose of PCV13.

The safety level of the pneumococcal vaccine

The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) as well as the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) are both safe, even for children. However, like any other vaccine, there are possibilities of side effects; but, it can rarely cause harmful reactions.

Possibilities of developing pneumonia after getting the vaccine shot

Being vaccinated does decrease the child's risk of developing pneumococcal pneumonia significantly. However, it is a fact that one cannot be perfectly safe from any infection. Therefore, some children who are vaccinated may get pneumococcal pneumonia. But, it is more likely to be a milder version of the infection.

What are the side effects of the pneumonia vaccine that parents should look out for in children?

There are minor side effects that infants and children may experience after taking the pneumococcal shot.

These include:

  • Tiredness
  • Fever of 102° F to 104° F in babies
  • Swelling, tenderness and redness at the spot where the vaccine was given
  • Fussiness
  • Vomiting in infants

What to do if your child develops moderate to severe reactions to the vaccine?

Rarely, your child can develop an allergic reaction to the vaccine. She may develop the allergy a few minutes or hours after taking the shot. The signs of a serious allergic reaction that you need to look out for in children are dizziness, difficulty in breathing, fatigue, rapid heartbeats, rashes, or swelling of the throat. In cases of moderate to severe reactions, seek medical help immediately.

What to do if you miss a dose?

Consult your doctor, if your child or an adult has missed a dosage of the vaccine. Children below  one year can take the shots that they have missed, in two-month intervals. Children, who are one to five years old, can take a single shot of the vaccine to make up for a missed dosage. However, always consult your doctor before getting any missed doses. 

The author, Dr Senthil Kumar, is a well-known paediatric, neonatal and cardiac intensivist. 

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