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Pneumococcal vaccine

Highlights
  • There is a vaccine to protect your children from pneumococcal infections.
  • Your doctor or public health unit can tell you the number of shots your child will need and when.

What are pneumococcal infections?

Pneumococcal infections are caused by bacteria (germs) called Streptococcus pneumoniae. These bacteria can cause infections in many different parts of the body, including the:

How do pneumococcal infections spread?

  • The germs spread from the nose and throat through close, direct contact such as kissing, coughing or sneezing.
  • They can also spread through saliva (spit) when sharing things like food, cups, water bottles, straws or toothbrushes.
  • These germs die quickly if they are outside of the body.

How can you tell if you have a pneumococcal infection?

The symptoms of a pneumococcal infection depend on what part(s) of the body is affected.

Meningitis (brain infection)

  • Meningitis is a serious disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.
  • Without treatment, all children who get this disease will die.
  • Meningitis can cause seizures, deafness or brain damage.
  • Symptoms include high fever, stiff neck, headache, vomiting, fussiness (crying), and loss of appetite (your child may not want to eat anything).

Bacteremia (bloodstream infection)

  • Bacteremia is caused when bacteria get into the blood.
  • Sometimes it goes away on its own. But if the bacteria multiply and travel to other parts of the body, they can cause permanent damage.
  • Symptoms include high fever , headache, vomiting, fussiness, and loss of appetite.

Pneumonia (lung infection)

  • Pneumonia causes the lungs to fill with infected fluid. People with pneumonia have trouble breathing.
  • Children who get pneumonia from the pneumococcal germ get ill very quickly. They will have a fever and cough and may bring up thick mucous.

Otitis media (middle ear infection)

  • Many different germs can cause ear infections, including the pneumococcal germ.
  • Middle ear infections usually start a few days after the start of a cold.
  • Middle ear infections cause ear pain, lack of energy, fussiness, waking up at night, and a lack of appetite. Some children get a fever.

Each of these infections can also be caused by other germs. The pneumococcal vaccine will not protect your child from these infections when they are caused by another germ.

How are pneumococcal infections treated?

People with serious pneumococcal infections need to take antibiotics to get better. But in some cases, even with antibiotics, the germ can cause permanent damage. Middle ear infections often go away without antibiotics.

How can I protect my child from pneumococcal infections?

There are two kinds of vaccine to protect your children from pneumococcal infections. 

  • The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine protects against the most common kinds of pneumococci bacteria. It’s recommended for all infants and children starting at 2 months of age.
  • The other vaccine, pneumococcal polysaccharide, is recommended for children 2 years of age or older who have other serious medical problems or are missing their spleen.

How do I we get the vaccine?

In Canada, all provinces and territories provide pneumococcal vaccine for children. While the exact schedule will depend on where you live, the shots are usually given at:

  • 2 months old,
  • 4 months old,
  • 6 months old, and
  • 12 to 15 months old.

Children who are older than 15 months can also get the vaccine and usually need fewer doses. Your doctor or public health unit can tell you the number of shots your child will need and when.

How safe is the pneumococcal vaccine?

  • Both vaccines are very safe.
  • As with any vaccine, there may be some redness or soreness at the place where the needle went into the arm or leg.
  • Some children will have a mild fever after getting the vaccine.

Who should NOT get the pneumococcal vaccine?

  • People who have had a bad allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine should not get it again.

Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee

Last Updated: November 2012