What is pneumococcal disease?
Pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria, and can lead to infections in the lungs, blood, and brain. Each year, pneumococcal disease causes many health problems in children younger than 5 years of age, including meningitis, blood infections, and ear infections.
Children younger than 2 years of age are at highest risk for serious disease. Vaccines are available to prevent the disease in children and adults.
What is the pneumococcal vaccine?
Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (abbreviated PCV13) is a shot for infants and toddlers. It helps prevent pneumococcal disease, and it also helps stop the disease from spreading from person to person. It is now also being given to older adults.
The vaccine's protection lasts at least 3 years. Because most serious pneumococcal infections happen during the first 2 years of life, the vaccine protects children when they are at greatest risk.
Why should my child get this vaccine?
Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine can prevent pneumococcal disease. Pneumococcus bacteria are spread from person to person through close contact. Pneumococcal infections can be hard to treat because the disease has become resistant to some of the medicines that have been used to treat it. This makes preventing the disease even more important.
Who should get the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and when?
The following groups of children should get this vaccine:
- All children younger than 2 years of age. Healthy infants and toddlers should get 4 doses of pneumococcal conjugate PCV13 vaccine at the following periods of development:
- One dose at 2 months of age
- One dose at 4 months of age
- One dose at 6 months of age
- One dose at 12 months to 15 months of age
Children who miss the first dose at 2 months of age should still get the vaccine. Ask your doctor for more information.
- It is also recommended for children and adults 2 to 64 years of age with certain health conditions, and for all adults 65 years of age and older. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended for children between 2 years and 5 years of age who:
- Have sickle cell disease
- Have a damaged spleen or no spleen
- Have a cochlear implant
- Have a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak
- Have HIV/AIDS
- Have other diseases that affect the immune system, such as diabetes, cancer, or liver disease
- Take medicines that affect the immune system, such as chemotherapy or steroids
The number of doses a child needs depends on the how old the child was when he or she started getting the shots. Ask your doctor for more details.
Children with any of the conditions listed above should probably also get a different pneumococcal vaccine, the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23). Ask your doctor if this recommendation applies to your child.
Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine may be given at the same time as other childhood vaccines.
Are there some children who should not get pneumococcal conjugate vaccine or who should get it when they are older?
Children should not get pneumococcal conjugate vaccine if they had a severe (life-threatening) allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine.
Children who are moderately or severely ill at the time the shot is scheduled should usually wait until they recover before getting the vaccine. Children with minor illnesses, such as a cold, may be vaccinated.
What are the risks from pneumococcal conjugate vaccine?
In clinical trials, pneumococcal conjugate vaccine was associated with only mild reactions, such as:
- Tenderness or swelling where the shot was given
- Mild fever
- Tiredness or poor appetite
A vaccine, like any medicine, could cause serious problems, such as a severe allergic reaction. The risk of this vaccine causing serious harm or death is extremely small. If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor.
What if my child has a moderate or severe reaction? What should I look for?
Look for any unusual condition such as a serious allergic reaction, high fever, or unusual behavior. If a serious allergic reaction is going to happen, it will usually happen within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot. Signs of a serious allergic reaction include the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Hoarseness or wheezing
- A fast heartbeat
- Swelling of the throat
What should I do if my child has a reaction?
- Call a doctor or take your child to a doctor right away.
- Tell your doctor what happened, when it happened, and when the vaccination was given.
- Ask your doctor, nurse or health department to file a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form, or call VAERS at (800) 822-7967.
How can I learn more about this vaccine?
- Ask your doctor or nurse. They can give you the vaccine package insert and/or suggest other sources of information.
- Call your local or state health department immunization program.
- Contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (see "Other Organizations").
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal disease. http://www.cdc.gov/pneumococcal/. Retrieved August 5, 2016.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff