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What Is the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine and Why Do You Need It?

Medically reviewed by Mae Charisse Antalan, MD · General Practitioner


Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Updated Jan 21, 2023

What Is the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine and Why Do You Need It?

Pneumococcal infections like pneumonia and ear infections are surprisingly common. While these infections are far less common than the cold or flu1, they may result in serious, life-threatening complications. For protection, the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine has got you covered. Read on to learn more about this vaccine and how it works to protect the young, old, and everyone in between.

Who Should Get the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine?

Generally, the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is a must for all seniors aged 65 years and older2. This is especially true for those who are at-risk of exposure, such as patients in hospital or residents in nursing homes. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all children under 2 years old get the pneumococcal vaccine3. In fact, the Department of Health’s (DOH) Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) includes PCV.

Forgot to get your shots? Contact your doctor or pediatrician to set up an appointment.

Contrary to popular belief, vaccines are not just for infants and the elderly. Even adolescents and adults should regularly visit their doctors and check which vaccines are available for them. 

In addition, people with weak immunity or those with certain medical conditions should get immunized. This includes patients with HIV/AIDS, cancer, those taking immunosuppressants, and people aged 65 or older who are at-risk of exposure (e.g. health care workers).

As a quick guide, here are the general vaccination schedules for each age group:

Vaccination Schedules for the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine

Infants and toddlers (6 weeks to 15 months old):

  • First dose at 2 months old (earliest allowable age is 6 weeks old).
  • Second dose at 4 months old.
  • Third dose at 6 months old.
  • Fourth dose at 12-15 months old (or at least 2 months after the third dose).

Catch-up schedule for unvaccinated children (7 months to 5 years old):

  • If the first dose is at age 7 to 11 months: 3 doses are necessary. Give dose 1 and dose 2 at least 4 weeks apart, then give dose 3 after 2 months.
  • If the first dose is at age 1 to <2 years:  2 doses are needed. Give dose 1 and dose 2 at least 2 months apart.
  • If the first dose is at age 2 to 5 years: only one dose is needed.

Children (6 to 17 years old):

  • Only one dose is necessary for children in this age group. If they have previously received this vaccine, wait at least 8 weeks (2 months) before giving this dose.
  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccination is not routine for this group, but it is encouraged for immunocompromised children or those with chronic diseases.
  • Adults (18 to 64 years old):

    • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccination is not routine for healthy individuals in this group. 
    • Immunocompromised adults or those with chronic conditions (such as heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes) should get vaccinated.
    • For eligible adults, one dose of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is not routine for is given. In certain cases, the PPSV23 vaccine may be given ≥8 weeks after receiving the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine.

    Please note that this vaccination schedule presented is just a summary of the recommendations from the CDC. Remember to set an appointment with a doctor or pediatrician to check for eligibility to get this vaccine.

    Understanding How the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine Prevents Pneumococcal Infections

    Now that we know who is eligible for the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and when to get it, it’s time to talk about how it works and its benefits.

    For starters, pneumococcal infections are diseases caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. While pneumonia often first comes to mind, this gram-positive bacteria can also cause inner ear infections (otitis media), sepsis, and meningitis. Like other bacterial infections, there are antibiotics available to treat these infections if they happen. Unfortunately, S. pneumoniae is becoming more resistant to these drugs, making vaccination and prevention the best option.

    The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine contains special sugar molecules called polysaccharides from different serotypes of S. pneumoniae. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine protects against 13 of the most common serotypes. This is a purified material from the capsule or coating of the bacteria, therefore it does not contain the actual bacteria or infectious material. The polysaccharide molecules are paired with a carrier protein, resulting in a conjugated vaccine.

    Inside the body, the vaccine works by activating white blood cells known as T cells. The protein-polysaccharide compound activates T cells which then signals another type of immune cell known as B cells. B cells are responsible for producing antibodies (IgM and IgG) and memory B cells which are essential for long-term immunity4, 6. Antibodies help the immune system quickly identify and efficiently attack infectious pathogens, such as S. pneumoniae, when a person is exposed to it.

    Effectiveness of the Vaccine

    After getting the vaccine, it takes several weeks before the body develops enough antibodies against pneumococcal infections. Therefore, it is important to prevent exposure to and close contact with infected individuals during this time. In terms of efficacy, the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is up to 100% effective at preventing invasive pneumococcal infections in infants who are given 4 doses starting at 4 months of age.

    Based on results of a Community-Acquired Pneumonia Immunization Trial in Adults (CAPiTA) aged 65 years and older, PCV is 75% effective against invasive pneumococcal diseases. Additionally, the vaccine has 45% efficacy against non-invasive pneumococcal pneumonia².

    Currently, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) no longer recommends the routine use of PCV. Instead, shared decision-making is necessary to determine whether PCV should be given along with PPSV23².

    Key Takeaways

    In summary, the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine or PCV is essential for infants and recommended for many senior citizens. However, people of any age with weakened immunity or chronic disease can also benefit from PCV.

    Talk to a doctor today to determine if you are eligible for this vaccine and set up an appointment.

    Disclaimer

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mae Charisse Antalan, MD

    General Practitioner


    Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Updated Jan 21, 2023

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