What Is The “Pneumococcal Vaccine”?

The pneumococcal vaccine is a vaccination that protects against severe and potentially fatal pneumococcal infections; it is most commonly known as the pneumonia vaccine.

Pneumococcal infections are caused by a specific type of bacterium known as Streptococcus Pneumoniae, and this can lead to pneumonia, blood poisoning or sepsis and even meningitis.  When these infections present at their worst, they can even cause permanent brain damage or even death.

There are two different types of pneumococcal vaccines available in the market in Hong Kong. The 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) and the 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (23vPPV).  The 23vPPV consists of pneumococcal capsular polysaccharides for 23 pneumococcal serotypes. Both the National Health Service of the United Kingdom and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States have published extensive papers on this and other vaccines.

What Is The History Of The Vaccine?

The first pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine was licensed for use in the United States as late as 1977, and it contained a purified capsular polysaccharide antigen from 14 different types of pneumococci. In 1983, a 23-valent polysaccharide vaccine was licensed and replaced the 14-valent vaccine; the latter is no longer produced.

The vaccine went through various stages of development, trials and testing. Then in 2008, the serotypes covered in PCV13 caused 53%, 49%, and 44% of invasive pneumococcal disease cases among persons aged 18 through 49, 50 through 64 and also 65 years or older, respectively; serotypes covered in PPSV23 caused 78%, 76% and 66% of IPD cases among persons in these age groups.

What Is The Vaccine’s Efficacy?

In particular, children are known to respond very well to the pneumococcal vaccine, and since its introduction, this vaccination schedule has resulted in a massive reduction in pneumococcal disease.

When the vaccine is given to older children and adults, it is thought that its efficacy is around 50 – 70% at preventing pneumococcal disease, and both types of vaccine are inactivated, or killed vaccines, and these do not contain any live organisms.

How Is The Vaccine Administered?

The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) is administered intramuscularly. The preferred site for infants and young children is the vastus lateralis muscle in the anterolateral thigh, whilst the preferred injection site in older children and adults is the deltoid muscles.

Who Should Have The Vaccine?

There are no specific exclusions for persons wishing to have the vaccine. Indeed, anyone can get a pneumococcal infection. Still, some people face a higher risk of serious illness than others, so it is recommended that they’re given the pneumococcal vaccination.

These people include babies, adults aged 65 or over or children and adults with specific long-term health conditions such as severe heart or kidney conditions.

Babies will generally be offered two doses of the vaccine at 12 weeks and one year of age.  People aged 65 and over only need a single vaccination because this is not given annually, such as the case with the flu jab.

Should you have a long-term condition, you may well only need a single, once-off vaccination or a vaccination every five years, condition dependent, and your healthcare practitioner can advise you accordingly.

When Shouldn’t You Have The Pneumococcal Vaccine?

In certain instances of advanced or young age or when there are specific underlying health conditions, some people shouldn’t get certain vaccines or at the very least should wait before they get them. In addition, children younger than two years of age should not get PPSV23 either.  You should also tell the healthcare practitioner administering the shot if you or your children have had a life-threatening allergic reaction or if you have a severe allergy.

You or your child/ren should also not take the vaccine if you’re feeling unwell. However, people who have a mild illness such as a cold probably could get vaccinated, while those who have a more severe illness should, in all likelihood, wait until they have fully recovered. In any event, you should always follow the advice of your doctor.

Are There Any Side Effects To The Vaccine?

Like most vaccines, the childhood and adult versions of the pneumococcal vaccine can sometimes cause mild side effects.

These might include:

A slightly raised temperature, redness where the injection was administered, hardness or swelling at the injection site and tenderness have all been reported.

As with all vaccines, some people respond without any side effects or presentations, while others report mild impacts and an even smaller amount report severe side effects. Still, when managed by your healthcare practitioner, you or your children shouldn’t be in any significant risk groups.