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Getting a Pneumococcal Vaccination

Pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria. This bacterium is called Streptococcus pneumoniae. This germ is easily spread. And it can be more dangerous than you think. There are different kinds of pneumococcal disease. It depends on what part of the body is infected. When the lungs are infected, pneumonia is the result. When the tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord are infected, meningitis is the result. Other infections from this germ include middle ear infection (otitis media) and bloodstream infections (bacteremia or septicemia).

The pneumococcal vaccine is your best way to reduce the chance of serious pneumococcal disease. The vaccine is given in the form of a shot (injection). This can be done at your healthcare provider’s office. Or it can be done at a health clinic. Drugstores, senior centers, and workplaces often offer vaccinations, too. If you have questions about getting vaccinated, ask your healthcare provider.

Pneumococcal Disease Facts

  • The pneumococcal vaccine is safe and effective. It will not give you the disease.

  • Pneumococcal disease spreads from person to person through the air in droplets. This happens when someone with the bacteria coughs, sneezes, laughs, or talks.

  • Pneumococcal disease can be life-threatening, especially for people in high-risk groups. Each year, thousands of people die of this disease. Thousands more become seriously ill.

  • You can get pneumococcal disease more than once. This is because there are many different types (strains) of the bacteria. Some strains are now resistant to treatment with pill antibiotics. They require intravenous medicines. So preventing the disease by vaccination is the best way to avoid getting the disease in the first place.

Pneumococcal Disease Symptoms

The symptoms will be different depending on where the infection is in the body.

  • Lungs (pneumonia): fever, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain

  • Covering of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis): fever, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, mental confusion, nausea and vomiting, seizures

  • Bloodstream (bacteremia or septicemia): fever, tiredness, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, mental confusion

  • Ears (otitis): severe ear pain, discharge, itching, aching or ringing in ears, dizziness 

How a Pneumococcal Vaccine Protects You

There are many strains of pneumococcal bacteria. Medical experts have developed two kinds of vaccines. These protect against the strains that cause most of the pneumococcal diseases. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is for all children under 5 years of age. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine is for persons 65 years and older. It’s also given to persons 2 years and older with high risk disease (such as HIV infection, immunocompromised state, and sickle cell disease). Persons 19 to 64 years of age who have asthma or smoke cigarettes may also receive this vaccine. The vaccines are made from the killed bacteria. The bacteria in the vaccines will not make a person sick. But they do prompt the body to make antibodies to fight the bacteria strains. If you’re exposed to the same strains later, the antibodies will help you fight off the bacteria.

Healthcare provider giving woman injection in arm.

Who Should Get the Pneumococcal Vaccination?

  • Persons 65 and older

  • Babies 2 months through 24 months old

  • People with chronic health problems (such as diabetes, chronic lung or heart disease, liver disease); or who have a cochlear implant

  • People who have weakened immune systems

  • People who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities

  • People who smoke or have asthma

  • People recently hospitalized with pneumonia

Your healthcare provider can tell you more about the vaccine and whether you should get it.

How Many Doses (Shots) Are Needed?

  • Babies 2 through 24 months need a total (series) of 4 doses, one dose at each of the following ages: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and anytime between 12 through 15 months. If a child isn’t vaccinated during this period or misses doses, he or she should still be vaccinated. Your healthcare provider can let you know about making up missed vaccinations for your child.

  • Adults 65 years or older need one dose. You may need a second dose if you received the first dose at a younger age. Your healthcare provider will let you know if you need a second dose.

  • For all other persons, the usual dose is one or two shots, depending on individual needs. Your healthcare provider can talk to you more about this.

Who Can’t Get a Pneumococcal Vaccination?

  • Babies younger than 2 months

  • Persons allergic to any ingredient in the vaccine; let the healthcare provider know if you or your child have had a severe reaction to any vaccine

  • Anyone who is severely ill should wait until they are all better before being vaccinated

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 5/15/2011
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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