The word ‘pneumonia’ is linked to any of the infections that affect the lungs. The vaccine is used as a preventive measure against a particular type of pneumonia caused by the pneumococcus bacterium called Streptococcus pneumoniae. It is one of the most common types of lung infections that occur outside an institutional setting or hospital in the United States.
In fact, it is estimated that more than 6,000 deaths that occur each year are due to pneumococcus infections, which is considered to be the highest number for any disease that can be prevented by a vaccine. Apart from affecting the lungs, this disease also infects the blood and is one of the leading causes of bacterial meningitis, that is responsible for a high number of fatalities associated with the disease. Typically, pneumonia is spread by coughing, sneezing, or any other way by which a contact is made with the respiratory output of an infected person. Hence, one of the best ways to prevent the transmission of the disease is to wash your hands often if you are in proximity with anyone infected.
If you have been exposed to the pneumococcus bacterium and are feeling ill, some of the common symptoms observed are:
Shortness of breath, coughing, and high temperature. A combination of all these symptoms may indicate the presence of this bacterial infection.
A general feeling of lowness accompanied by fever can be linked to bacteremia, an infection that affects the blood.
A slow down in mental alertness, headache, and fever. A combination of these can indicate meningitis.
There are over 80 types of pneumococcus bacteria, 23 of which are covered by the vaccine that is currently available. The shot is injected directly into the body in order to stimulate the immune system. When the immune system is stimulated, it produces antibodies against the bacteria, resulting in pneumonia prevention.
This technique of stimulating the immune system to work against a particular microbe is known as immunization. The vaccination is also called pneumococcal immunization.
Who should be given the vaccine?
Some groups of people are thought to be particularly susceptible to acquiring this disease. Hence, medical professionals recommend that these groups should get the shots to immunize themselves against it. These groups are:
People who are 65 years old or older.
People who are more than two years old and are afflicted with chronic heart, lung, or other organic disorders, such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, cardiomyopathy, chronic liver disease, and diabetes mellitus.
People above two years of age suffering from spleen dysfunction resulting from sickle cell disease or asplenia; splenectomy, or the surgical removal of the spleen; malignancy of blood resulting in leukemia; kidney failure; multiple myeloma; and alcoholism.
People more than two years old undergoing immunosuppressive treatment for AIDS or organ transplantation.
Some native Americans and Alaskan natives.
Unlike the flu shot, the pneumonia vaccine need not be taken every year. Usually, a single dose of the vaccination suffices.
Who should not take the vaccination?
The shot should not be taken by people who have a previous history of reacting hypersensitively to the vaccine. Safety of pneumonia vaccination during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, has not yet been evaluated. Hence, women who are contemplating pregnancy or are already pregnant are advised to check up with their doctors before going in for immunization against this respiratory disorder.
How is the pneumonia shot administered?
A single shot of the vaccine is sufficient for most people, with 0.5 ml of the liquid solution being injected into the deltoid muscle or as a subcutaneous injection. The part of the body to be injected is sterilized with alcohol by rubbing on it before the shot is given.
Frequency of Administration
People who have taken the vaccination before the age of 65 should be given the shot again at the age of 65 if there has been a gap of 5 or more years since the first vaccination.
People who are afflicted with spleen dysfunction or suffer from chronic kidney disease, transplant patients, immunodeficient or immunosuppressed individuals, and others who are at a high risk of contracting a fatal disease should be administered a second vaccine shot about 5 years after the first shot.
The pneumonia vaccine does not usually cause any side effects; however, sometimes it can cause redness and/or soreness in the injected area, rash, fever, and occasionally even allergic reactions.
Although the vaccine is considered to be safe, it is generally not recommended for people who are otherwise healthy, even on exposure to the bacteria. Pneumonia is usually treatable with antibiotics. It is only those people falling in the above-mentioned vulnerable categories who should be given the pneumonia vaccination as a measure of prevention.