Available vaccines: PCV13 or Prevnar 13® (pneumococcal conjugate), PPSV23 or Pneumovax® (pneumococcal polysaccharide)
Pneumonia is any infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, but most commonly we associate pneumonia with the lung infection pneumococcal pneumonia. Pneumonia can also cause ear infections, sinus infections, meningitis, and bacteremia.
Anyone can contract pneumonia, but there is an increased risk in children younger than age 2 years, adults greater than age 65 years, individuals with chronic illnesses (heart, liver, or kidney disease, COPD, asthma, sickle cell, diabetes, or alcoholism), immunocompromised individuals, those with cochlear implants, and cigarette smokers.
Pneumonia is spread through respiratory droplets, and many people have pneumonia in their nose or throat without being ill; it isn’t until they may have a weakened immune system (for instance, they are fighting another infection) or the germ is present in large quantities and the human body can no longer suppress it that someone may become ill.
Symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia include fever and chills, cough, difficulty breathing, and chest pain. Middle-ear infections from pneumococcal bacteria cause ear pain, inflamed eardrum, fever, and sleepiness. Pneumococcal meningitis presents with a stiff neck, fever, headache, photophobia, and confusion. Pneumococcal bacteremia has nonspecific symptoms of fever, chills, and low alertness.
Most pneumonia infections are mild, such as sinus and ear infections, but serious complications of pneumococcal pneumonia include emphysema, pericarditis, endobronchial obstructions, atelectasis, and abscesses in the lungs. As many as 5% of individuals with noninvasive pneumococcal pneumonia will die from the disease, with an even higher rate in elderly patients.
Antibiotics are used to treat pneumococcal infections, however there is building resistance to the commonly utilized antibiotic prescriptions available. The best way to avoid getting pneumonia is to receive the vaccine. Even if an individual had a previous infection from pneumonia the vaccine is still recommended due to the large quantity of known pneumococcal serotypes, therefore, a previous exposure does not guarantee immunity.
The polysaccharide vaccine provides antibodies in greater than 80% of individuals who receive the vaccine. The antibody response can last for at least 5 years and the immune response develops within 2 to 3 weeks after the inoculation.
The conjugate vaccines reduce invasive disease, decreases episodes of acute otitis media, children who receive the vaccine required 20% fewer tympanostomy tubes, and there were fewer confirmed pneumonia cases from x-rays.
The PCV13 protects against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria and the PPSV23 protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria.
Who Should Get the Vaccine?
The CDC recommends the conjugate vaccine for children younger than age 2 years and adults over age 65 years and the conjugate and polysaccharide vaccine for individuals between age 2 and age 64 years with certain medical conditions.
Who Should NOT Get the Vaccine?
Anyone who has had a previous life-threatening allergic reaction to a pneumonia vaccine, or who is moderately to severely ill at the time of the vaccine, should not get the vaccine.
The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine should not be administered to children younger than age 2 years.
Side effects from the conjugate vaccine include injection-site reactions, fever, loss of appetite, fussiness or irritability, tiredness, headache, and chills. Side effects from the polysaccharide vaccine include injection-site reactions, fever, and myalgia.
Medicare Part B covers the cost of both pneumococcal vaccines when administered at least 12 months apart.
Most private health insurances cover the vaccines—check with your provider for information.
The Vaccines for Children Program may be able to help if you do not have health insurance coverage for your child or if your insurances do not cover vaccines.« Click here to return to Vaccine Update.