Pneumococcal Vaccination: Why Is This Vaccine So Important?

September 9, 2021 | Written By: Azmani Fauzi

Pneumococcal Vaccination: Why Is This Vaccine So Important?

According to the Malaysian 2020 budget, the pneumococcal vaccine will be introduced as part of the National Immunisation Schedule. Many families must be wondering what the pneumococcal vaccine is and why it is so important that the Malaysian government spends a large sum of money to provide this vaccine for free. 

There are two types of vaccines called polysaccharide and conjugate. The pneumococcal vaccine was first introduced in the United States in the year 1977 known as Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine that covers 14 different types of pneumococcal bacteria. Later in 1983, a 23-valent polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV-23), currently known as (Pneumovax 23, Merck) in the States was developed to replace the 14 serotypes vaccine. 

Meanwhile, the first pneumococcal conjugate vaccine was introduced in the States, the year 2000. Initially named PCV7, this vaccine was able to protect humans from 7 serotypes of S.pneumoniae. A 10 serotype pneumococcal vaccine (PCV 10) was introduced in 2009. Following that, in 2010, a newer pneumococcal vaccine called PCV13 was introduced as well. Both PCV10 and PCV13 are available today and they have the ability to protect us from different types of S.pneumoniae infections.


Get To Know The Pneumococcal Infection

What is S.pneumoniae? First of all, it's a bacterium that has more than 90 serotypes or variations, yet only about 20 serotypes commonly cause pneumococcal infections in humans as pneumococcus commonly found in our respiratory tract. The following are some of the conditions caused by these bacteria:

  • Inflammation and bacterial infection of the lungs (pneumonia)

  • Inflammation of the brain lining (meningitis)

  • Infection throughout the vascular network (sepsis)

  • Inflammation of the sinuses (sinusitis)

  • Infections of the middle ear (otitis media)

Pneumococcal infection is contagious. Bacterial infections caused by S.pneumoniae usually spreads through respiratory droplets (i.e. cough or sneeze containing the bacteria). Unbeknownst to most patients, those who might be infected but do not have any symptoms are considered a potential carrier of the disease.

Although treatment for the diseases caused by these bacteria is available, vaccination is the most cost-effective measure to protect the community from severe infections or death that may be caused by pneumococcus. It is also important to understand that children and the elderly are very susceptible to this infection, particularly those with chronic illness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the majority of lung infections in Europe and the United States are mostly caused by bacteria S.pneumoniae. An estimated 10 to 100 cases per 100,000 population are reported in a year.


Types of Pneumococcal Vaccine

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are two types of pneumococcal vaccines that have been approved for adult use, namely:

  • Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV13)

  • Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine (PPSV23)

PCV13 is usually given to children aged 2, 4, 6, and 12 months. This vaccine is able to protect us from 13 different strains of pneumococcus bacteria that can cause serious illness. Adults will only need one dose.

PPSV23 is recommended to all adults 65 years or older, specific groups in need, such as those with chronic illness age 2 through 64 years old. It is also given to Adults 19 through 64 years old who smoke cigarettes. As the immunity developed usually wanes after 5 years of injection, you are recommended to re-vaccinate again to protect yourself from pneumococcus infection. 

Who should take the Pneumococcal Vaccine?

Pneumococcal vaccines are also recommended for the following groups:

  • Children who are less than 2 years old should receive 4 or 3 injections following the 3 primers and 1 booster or 2 primers and 1 booster schedule; with the first dose as early as 2 months old.

  • 2 to 64 year olds who are undergoing treatment for chronic diseases, such as steroid intake and chemotherapy treatment.

  • 2 to 64 year old who are suffering from certain chronic diseases such as Hodgkin's disease, Leukemia, HIV infection, AIDS, etc.

  • Adults aged 19 to 64 years with asthma or active smokers.

  • For those aged 65 and above, this group is also advised to take the PCV13 vaccine injection as well as the PPSV23 vaccine following a schedule.

Are Pneumococcal Vaccines Safe?

It is common knowledge that every vaccine introduced in this world has its own potential side effects. However, the benefits of a vaccine are far greater than the potential risks. Can you differentiate between vaccine facts and myths?

Usually, a person or child will only experience minor side effects and will gradually recover within two to three days. Possible side effects may include: 

  • Redness, swelling, and pain at the injection site

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Fatigue 

  • Lack of appetite


If you experience these adverse events after receiving your vaccination, do not worry because these symptoms are normal. However, if these symptoms persist, you need to see a doctor for further examination and appropriate treatment.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that allergic reactions are an extremely rare occurrence following a vaccine injection. Allergies are estimated to occur in only one case out of a million vaccine injections.

Pneumococcal Vaccine Malaysia

Pneumococcal vaccines that are available in Malaysia are divided into two types, namely pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine and pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. The vaccine is administered to the thigh or arm muscles. It can be given together with other vaccines, as long as the vaccination site is different.

Looking at the previous National Immunisation Schedule, the pneumococcal vaccine is not listed amongst the mandatory vaccinations. However, in 2019, the Ministry of Health Malaysia agreed to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine into the national program, and it is now available from December 2020. When it is introduced, three doses of injections will be given to the babies at age 4, 8, and 15 months. Through this program, the government targets all children to receive injections and achieve a vaccination rate of 95%.

For adults and kids born before year 2020, you should also get this vaccine as you can still be infected by S.pneumoniae. There are a lot of clinics and hospitals that are offering this vaccination service. Consult a doctor and get a jab so that you are protected from this deadly infection. 

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