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Pneumococcal (Strep) Vaccine: Should I Get It?

photo of Dr. LinDr. Kenneth Lin is a board certified internist at Inova General Internal Medicine Group – Ballston. He has 21 years of clinical experience and special interests in preventive medicine, nutrition, and dermatologic procedures.

Streptococcus pneumoniae – commonly referred to as “strep” or “pneumococcus” – is a familiar type of bacteria associated with varying infections which range from pharyngitis and middle ear infections to life-threatening illnesses like pneumonia and meningitis. The elderly and young children are at higher risk for contracting these life-threatening illnesses and complications.
stethescope around a doctor's neck
Pneumococcal infections are contagious and transmitted through direct person-to-person contact via respiratory droplets. Because respiratory diseases are more prevalent during the winter and early spring, this is when pneumococcal infections are most common. Fortunately, there are two vaccines that are highly effective in protecting against strep infections.

Prevnar13® (PCV13) was introduced in 2010 and provides protection against 13 types (serotypes) of pneumococcus. This vaccine is given as an immunization series in young children. Dosing schedules vary, depending on the age at which the child begins receiving vaccinations.

 Children 6 years of age and older and adults under 65 who are considered “high risk” (those with sickle cell disease, cochlear implant, CSF leak, status post splenectomy, HIV positive or other immunocompromised conditions) should receive a single dose. All adults 65 and older should also receive a single dose.

Pneumovax23® (PPSV23) protects against 23 types of pneumococcus. It complements Prevnar13 and should be given in addition to Prevnar13. It is recommended for all adults over the age of 65 and high risk individuals 2 years of age or older. It is also recommended for cigarette smokers between the ages of 19 and 64.

 Adults who have not received either vaccine should start with Prevnar13, followed by Pneumovax23. Pneumovax23 should be administered at least 8 weeks after the Prevnar13 immunization.

Side effects of the pneumococcal vaccines may include redness, swelling, and tenderness at the injection site; fever; achiness; and fatigue.

Individuals with a history of known allergic reactions to either of these vaccines, or to the TdAP vaccine, should not receive the pneumococcal vaccine. If you currently have symptoms of a respiratory or other infection, it may be best to defer vaccination until symptoms resolve.

Studies conducted in the U.S. and other countries have demonstrated that these vaccines not only dramatically decrease the prevalence of severe pneumococcal disease in vaccinated individuals, but also decrease the risk of disease in un-vaccinated people. This shows that the vaccines help in limiting bacterial spread in the community. Remember, vaccination is not just intended to protect you – it can protect those around you who are most vulnerable.

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