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There are more than 90 different types of the pneumococcal bacterium. Several of these can cause disease in humans, usually pneumonia, sinusitis and middle ear inflammation. Occasionally the infection can become more serious, such as blood poisoning (sepsis) or inflammation of the brain membrane (meningitis). Pneumococcal bacteria can cause disease in both children and adults but there are different types that dominate in different age groups. Most cases of serious pneumococcal disease occur in very young children, in people over 65 and in people with certain risk factors.
Before the introduction of the vaccine, 60–80 children under the age of two were affected annually by serious pneumococcal disease. Most children had previously been healthy and had not been particularly predisposed to disease.
The vaccine contains fragments of the bacterium's sugar capsule (polysaccharide) bonded to proteins. The vaccine protects against 13 pneumococcal types. Before the introduction of the vaccine, these 13 types were the cause of many pneumococcal infections in children under the age of two. The vaccine has also reduced the number of cases of middle ear inflammation caused by these pneumococcal types. The vaccine does not protect against disease due to pneumococcal types other than the 13 included in the vaccine, nor does it protect against other bacteria or viruses.
The vaccine against pneumococcal disease is given with the combination vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, Hib infection and hepatitis B.
Common side effects
Redness, swelling, tenderness or pain at the injection site occur in more than 10 % of the people vaccinated and can last for several days.
Restlessness, irritability, crying, feeling unwell, drowsiness, reduced appetite or feeling sick for 1–2 days after the vaccination occur in some people. It is difficult to know whether such symptoms are due to the vaccine or something else.
A brief fever may occur among more than one in ten and is more common when the vaccine is given with other vaccines. A fever over 39.5˚C occurs in less than 1 in 100 and medical attention should be sought to rule out other causes of the fever that may require treatment.
The vaccine used is called Prevenar 13.