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Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine

Definition

The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine helps protect against severe infections due to the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. The bacteria frequently causes meningitis and pneumonia in children, older adults, and people with chronic illnesses.

Even though it's often called a "pneumonia vaccine," the vaccine has not been shown to prevent uncomplicated pneumonia.

Alternative Names

Vaccine - pneumovax; Immunization - pneumovax

Information

VACCINE INFORMATION

The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine is an inactivated-bacteria vaccine, which means it uses dead bacteria to teach the immune system to recognize and fight active bacteria.

This vaccine effectively prevents illnesses caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae in children over age 2 and adults at risk.

WHO SHOULD GET THIS VACCINE

The vaccine is recommended for:

  • High-risk people age 2 or older
    • Includes persons with heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, alcoholism, diabetes, cirrhosis, cochlear implants, and leaks of cerebrospinal fluid
  • Everyone age 65 years or older
  • Those with sickle cell disease
  • Those who have had their spleen removed
  • Persons who live in nursing homes (extended-care facilities)
  • Persons who live in any institution where there are people with chronic health problems
  • Persons with conditions that weaken the immune system, such as cancer, HIV, or organ transplantation
  • Persons who receive chronic (long-term) immunosuppressive medications, including steroids
  • Alaskan natives and certain Native American populations over age 50 who live in high-risk areas

The CDC also recommends that smokers age 19 to 64 also receive the vaccine.

A single dose of the vaccine is given by injection. One dose works for most people. However, a second dose is recommended for people over age 65 who received their first dose before age 65 and more than 5 years ago. Other high-risk people, including those with weakened immune systems and spleen problems, may also need a second dose. You should speak with your doctor about specific reasons for vaccination and revaccination.

The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine does not protect against pneumococcal diseases in children under age 2. There is a different vaccine, the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, which is routinely given to younger children to protect against disease due to Streptococcus pneumoniae.

RISKS AND SIDE EFFECTS

Most people have no or only minor side effects from the pneumococcal vaccine. Pain and redness at the injection site can occur. As is the case with any drug or vaccine, there is a small chance of allergic reactions, more serious reactions, or even death after receiving the pneumococcal vaccine.

Watch for and be familiar with how to treat minor side effects, such as low-grade fever or tenderness, at the injection site.

Call your health care provider if moderate or serious side effects appear after the pneumococcal vaccine has been given, or if you have any questions or concerns related to the vaccine.

Talk to your doctor before receiving the pneumococcal vaccine if you have a fever or an illness that is more serious than a cold or if there is a chance you might be pregnant. The vaccine may be withheld or delayed.

Call your health care provider if you are not sure if the pneumococcal vaccine should be delayed, withheld, or only given to a specific person.

References

Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Recommended adult immunization schedule: United States, 2009. MMWR. January 2, 2009;57;Q1-Q4.

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Review Date: 11/9/2009

Review By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2010 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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