Everything You Need to Know About the Pneumococcal Vaccine

Everything You Need to Know About the Pneumococcal Vaccine

You take all the care in the world to ensure your little one grows safe in your womb. But then she takes her first breath in the real world, and the game changes. There are so many factors that suddenly come into the picture once your little one is born, that try as you may, you may not be able to keep your precious baby safe from harm. One boon of medical advancement that firmly stands by your side at such times is vaccination.

A vaccine is a preparation that is introduced into the body to teach it to fight with different diseases. Vaccines are routinely employed to prevent disease like rubella, measles, chicken pox, hepatitis, etc. in children. However, one disease that gets side-lined quite often is the pneumococcal disease.

Pneumococcal Disease: Causes, Types and Symptoms

The pneumococcal disease is a group of illnesses caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae. An infection of this bacterium can manifest in the form of following types of illnesses:

  • Meningitis – when the bacteria infects the meninges (the protective tissue that covers the brain and the spinal cord). Symptoms of meningitis in babies include fever, severe headache, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, and photophobia (fear of light).
  • Bacteraemia – when the bacteria enter and infect the bloodstream directly. Symptoms include high fever with or without complications such as meningitis, pneumonia, pericarditis (swelling of the pericardium, the protective wall around the heart), peritonitis (swelling of the peritoneum, lining that covers the inner wall of the abdomen) or arthritis from pneumococcal infection.
  • Bacteraemic Pneumonia – a type of pneumonia (lung infection) caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae. Common symptoms of pneumonia include rapid shallow breathing, shaking chills, cough, fever, chest, congestion, headache and greenish, yellowish or blood-tinged sputum.
  • Otitis mediainfection of the middle ear. Symptoms include an earache, fever and muffled hearing. In young children, frequent tugging at the ear may signal otitis media.
  • Sinusitis – infection of the sinuses. Symptoms include low-grade fever (less than 100.4 Fahrenheit), running nose, headache, nasal congestion and cough.

Who is at High Risk of Pneumococcal Disease?

Children up to 2 years of age are at highest risk for pneumococcal infection. This is because immunity of young children is very low and it’s very easy for them to catch any kind of infection. Daycare attendance and family child care have been identified as major risk factors – people who are responsible for the care and well-being of your child – this is because Pneumococci are transmitted via air, making it difficult to control and/or avoid infection. A person who has been infected by the bacterium can easily spread it to other people when they cough or sneeze. Infants and young children easily transmit it to other children too, in communal and family settings.

How Does Pneumococcal Disease Spread?

As explained previously, Pneumococci spread from person to person via droplets of respiratory tract secretions: when a person sneezes or coughs, tiny droplets of fluid that contain the bacteria get expelled in the air. Anyone who inhales these droplets is likely to get pneumococcal disease.

Pneumococci are common in the nose and throat of healthy children. In some cases, however, their presence is an indication of oncoming otitis media or an invasive form of pneumococcal disease such as meningitis, bacteraemia and bacteremic pneumonia. In addition, children harbouring this bacterium in their nose and throat can easily infect other children.

Finally, it has been observed that day-care authorities have a higher rate of pneumococcal carriage: this means, these people are more likely to harbour the bacterium in their body, and thereby give rise to pneumococcal disease in children placed in their care. Pneumococcal disease thus contracted can vary in intensity and includes severe, invasive pneumococcal diseases such as bacteraemia and meningitis.

Mother comforts child with pneumonia

Can Pneumococcal Disease Be Prevented in Children?

Yes.

Vaccination is perhaps the most efficient and cost-effective way of reducing morbidity and mortality caused by the pneumococcal disease. Pneumococcal disease can be prevented in children less than 2 years by using pneumococcal vaccines. However, it is important to get the correct vaccine and to complete the dosage recommended in order to protect your child from pneumococcal disease.

About the Pneumococcal Vaccine

The bacterium that causes pneumococcal disease, Streptococcus pneumoniae, has various forms, known as serotypes. So far, over 90 serotypes have been identified. However, of these, 13 serotypes are responsible for a majority of the disease burden – these 13 are the most common cause for the pneumococcal disease.

A few years ago, a vaccine that provides protection against all these 13 serotypes was developed. This is known as the PCV13. It is better to choose the broad coverage PCV13 vaccine when it comes to protecting your child against pneumococcal disease since it provides protection against a higher number of serotypes.

Recommended Doses and Schedule for Pneumococcal Vaccine

This vaccine is recommended to be administered in a series for young children and infants. The series consists of three doses, each taken at the ages of 6 weeks, 10 weeks, and 14 weeks. A booster dose is given between 12 and 15 months. Even if the baby has missed any of these shots, it is imperative to administer the booster. It is also advised that you consult with a doctor to confirm the dosage interval and number.

Apart from the above schedule, the following points are to be remembered:

  • For a child who missed any of the doses, it is advisable to consult a paediatrician about when she can be given the next dose, and also how many more doses will she be required to take.
  • For children between 2 and 4 years of age who did not complete their pneumococcal vaccine schedule, 1 dose of the PCV13 vaccine is recommended.
  • For children who are below 5 years of age and were vaccinated with some other PCV vaccine, 1 additional dose of PCV13 is recommended.

How is the Vaccine Given

The PCV13 vaccine is administered intramuscularly. The site of injection for babies and young children is in the vastus lateralis muscle, which is located in the thigh.

While the vaccine has a lot of benefits and can indeed be a life-saver, there are a few things you need to follow before you take your baby to the doctor to get the shots.

Ask Your Doctor

Find out if your child needs to get the PCV13 vaccine. The answer will most likely be ‘yes’ for any child who is less than 5 years old. However, depending on how many previous doses of the pneumococcal vaccine your child has had, the dosage and/or schedule may vary.

Tell Your Doctor

Inform your doctor about the following things before giving your baby the vaccine:

  • If your baby has had a high fever at any time in the recent past
  • If your baby has ever developed an allergic reaction to any food, medicine or vaccine in the past
  • if your baby has any blood disorder, especially one that makes your baby bleed excessively
  • If, for whatever reason, your doctor has ever indicated that your baby has a lower/weaker immunity

What Can Mothers Do for Protecting Their Babies from Pneumococcal Disease?

It is of utmost importance for parents to make a careful, precise and unbiased decision in providing the right care to their child. All mothers should consult their treating paediatrician for PCV13, the broad spectrum pneumococcal vaccine, to protect from this disease. Mothers should spend some time with their paediatricians discussing vaccines against pneumococcal disease and ask the paediatrician which pneumococcal vaccine is right for their child and choose wisely. They should also share this information with friends and relatives and help protect against pneumococcal disease.

Also Read: Meningococcal Vaccination: Types, Schedule and Side-effects