If you have a chronic disease or are 65 years and older, your immune system may be less efficient at fighting pneumococcal infections caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae.
To reduce your risk of being among thousands of Canadians hospitalized every year for these infections, consider getting vaccinated.
What is a pneumococcal infection?
Streptococcus pneumoniae is a bacterium that can be found in the nose and throat of some healthy individuals. Most people do not become sick when they contract this bacterium but for individuals with decreased ability to fight off infections, this can lead to serious illness.
Streptococcus pneumoniae can target different parts of the body and range from mild cases such as ear infections (acute otitis media) and sinus infections (sinusitis) to very serious and even life-threatening cases affecting the:
- lungs (pneumonia);
- blood (bacteremia or septicemia);
- brain and spinal cord (meningitis).
How is a pneumococcal infection transmitted?
The bacterium is transmitted from one person to another either by droplets released in the air when a person coughs or sneezes or through person-to-person oral contact.
Who is most at risk of complications due to a pneumococcal infection?
The severity of a pneumococcal infection depends on the age and overall health of the person. For frail individuals, it can be very difficult for their weakened immune system to fight off the infection. This also puts them at an increased risk of these bacteria spreading throughout the entire body, thus causing serious complications such as meningitis and bacteremia. This is the case if you…
- have a chronic disease of the heart, lungs, or kidneys;
- have diabetes;
- have a disease of the spleen, or no longer have a spleen;
- have cirrhosis of the liver or an alcohol addiction;
- have HIV;
- have an immune system compromised by a disease or treatment (for cancer, for example);
- have received certain types of transplants;
- are 65 years or older, regardless of your overall health.
Types of pneumococcal vaccines
There are two types of pneumococcal vaccines: the conjugate vaccine and the polysaccharide vaccine.
|Conjugate Vaccine||Polysaccharide Vaccine|
|Protects against 13 Streptococcus pneumoniae strains||Protects against 23 Streptococcus pneumoniae strains|
|Administered to infants, young children, and adults 65 years or older.||Recommended for those 2 to 64 whose health places them at risk of complications.|
|Requires three doses for infants, one to two doses for younger children, and one dose for adults 65 years or older.||Only requires one dose. However, a booster is sometimes recommended after five years.|
It is also recommended that healthy people that are 65 years or older in most provinces get a single dose of the polysaccharide vaccine. All pneumococcal vaccines can be offered at the same time as annual flu shots.
Pneumococcal vaccination procedure and possible side effects
The conjugate vaccine can be injected into the upper arm muscle while the polysaccharide vaccine can be injected either into the upper arm muscle or under the skin. Some people may experience pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site, or may develop a slight fever after being vaccinated. These side effects can be eased by taking a pain killer like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. You can also apply a numbing cream just prior to vaccination to decrease the pain where the needle enters the skin.
Where to get vaccinated against pneumococcal infections
Many pharmacies offer vaccination services. Ask your pharmacist whether these services are available at your pharmacy. Alternatively, you may also consult a medical clinic or community healthcare centres.
Pneumococcal vaccination is offered free of charge to targeted groups in every Canadian province.