How does this medication work? What will it do for me?

Pneumococcal vaccine belongs to the class of medications called vaccines. It is used for the prevention of pneumonia caused by the 23 different types of pneumococci bacteria that are contained in the vaccine. Pneumococcal bacteria can cause many diseases ranging from pneumonia (lung infection) and meningitis (brain infection) to severe infections of the blood.

The pneumococcal vaccine increases your defenses against infection with pneumococcal bacteria by introducing very small amounts of bacterial components (not live bacteria) into the bloodstream. These components of bacteria are enough to stimulate the production of your own antibodies (cells designed to attack that particular bacteria), which will remain in the body ready to attack any future bacteria that may cause infection.

It is important to remember that vaccination only protects you from those bacteria that are actually contained in the vaccine. The vaccination is designed to prevent infection caused by the most common types of pneumonia-causing bacteria.

The vaccine is recommended for everyone 2 years of age or older who are at an increased risk of having complications or dying from pneumococcal pneumonia. These include people:

  • with chronic conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, liver disease, kidney failure, alcoholism, diabetes or cerebrospinal fluid leaks with HIV infection, certain types of cancer, or people receiving drugs which suppress the immune system
  • who do not have a spleen or have a spleen that does not work properly
  • recovering from severe disease
  • over 50 years of age, as recommended by a physician

This medication may be available under multiple brand names and/or in several different forms. Any specific brand name of this medication may not be available in all of the forms or approved for all of the conditions discussed here. As well, some forms of this medication may not be used for all of the conditions discussed here.

Your doctor may have suggested this medication for conditions other than those listed in these drug information articles. If you have not discussed this with your doctor or are not sure why you are taking this medication, speak to your doctor. Do not stop taking this medication without consulting your doctor.

Do not give this medication to anyone else, even if they have the same symptoms as you do. It can be harmful for people to take this medication if their doctor has not prescribed it.

What form(s) does this medication come in?

Pneumo 23 is no longer being manufactured for sale in Canada. For brands that may still be available, search under pneumococcal vaccine (polysaccharide). This article is being kept available for reference purposes only. If you are using this medication, speak with your doctor or pharmacist for information about your treatment options.

How should I use this medication?

Pneumococcal vaccine will be injected either under the skin or into a muscle (preferably in the upper, outer arm or thigh) by a qualified health professional. It usually needs to be given only once in a lifetime. Although routine revaccination is not recommended, people at highest risk of serious pneumococcal infection may need revaccination. Revaccination is given 5 years later for people who received their first dose of pneumococcal vaccine when they were older than 10 years of age, and 3 years later for people who received their first dose at age 10 or younger. People over the age of 65 who have not received a dose of this vaccine within 5 years, should receive another dose of the vaccine.

Many things can affect the dose of medication that a person needs, such as body weight, other medical conditions, and other medications. Your doctor may recommend a different dose than the ones listed here.

It is important this vaccine be given exactly as recommended by your doctor. If you miss an appointment to receive the pneumococcal vaccine, contact your doctor as soon as possible to reschedule your appointment.

Refrigerate the vaccine until use. It must not freeze or it will have to be discarded.

Do not dispose of medications in wastewater (e.g. down the sink or in the toilet) or in household garbage. Ask your pharmacist how to dispose of medications that are no longer needed or have expired.

Who should NOT take this medication?

Do not use the pneumococcal vaccine if you:

  • are allergic to any ingredient of the vaccine
  • have an acute, severe illness with fever

What side effects are possible with this medication?

Many medications can cause side effects. A side effect is an unwanted response to a medication when it is taken in normal doses. Side effects can be mild or severe, temporary or permanent.

The side effects listed below are not experienced by everyone who takes this medication. If you are concerned about side effects, discuss the risks and benefits of this medication with your doctor.

The following side effects have been reported by at least 1% of people taking this medication. Many of these side effects can be managed, and some may go away on their own over time.

Contact your doctor if you experience these side effects and they are severe or bothersome. Your pharmacist may be able to advise you on managing side effects.

  • reaction at place of injection such as redness, soreness, hard lump, swelling, pain
  • mild fever

Although most of the side effects listed below don't happen very often, they could lead to serious problems if you do not seek medical attention.

Check with your doctor as soon as possible if any of the following side effects occur:

  • aches or pain in joints or muscles
  • altered skin sensation
  • decreased ability to move limbs
  • headache
  • high fever (over 39°C/102.2°F) or chills
  • skin rash
  • swollen glands

Seek immediate medical attention if any of the following occur:

  • signs of a serious allergic reaction such as:
    • difficulty in breathing or swallowing
    • hives
    • itching, especially of feet or hands
    • reddening of skin, especially around the ears
    • swelling of eyes, face, or inside of nose
    • unusual tiredness or weakness (sudden or severe)
  • seizures

Some people may experience side effects other than those listed. Check with your doctor if you notice any symptom that worries you while you are taking this medication.

Are there any other precautions or warnings for this medication?

Before you begin using a medication, be sure to inform your doctor of any medical conditions or allergies you may have, any medications you are taking, whether you are pregnant or breast-feeding, and any other significant facts about your health. These factors may affect how you should use this medication.

Heart and lung disease: If you have severely compromised heart and lung function, discuss with your doctor how this medication may affect your medical condition, how your medical condition may affect the dosing and effectiveness of this medication, and whether any special monitoring is needed.

Immunization record: Make sure any new doctors know that you have had this vaccination so that they can put this information in your immunization record.

Infection and fever: If you have an infection or fever, your doctor may recommend that you wait until you are better before receiving the pneumococcal vaccine.

Vaccine protection: As with any vaccine, this vaccine may not protect 100% of the people who receive it.

Pregnancy: This vaccine should not be used during pregnancy unless the benefits outweigh the risks. If you become pregnant around the time you are scheduled to have this vaccine, contact your doctor immediately.

Breast-feeding: It is not known if this vaccine passes into breast milk. If you are a breast-feeding mother and have this vaccine, it may affect your baby. Talk to your doctor about whether you should continue breast-feeding.

Children: This vaccine is not recommended for children under 2 years of age.

What other drugs could interact with this medication?

There may be an interaction between the pneumococcal vaccine and any of the following:

  • immunosuppressive therapy (e.g., some medications used for the treatment of cancer or for transplant recipients)
  • zoster vaccine

If you are taking any of these medications, speak with your doctor or pharmacist. Depending on your specific circumstances, your doctor may want you to:

  • stop taking one of the medications,
  • change one of the medications to another,
  • change how you are taking one or both of the medications, or
  • leave everything as is.

An interaction between two medications does not always mean that you must stop taking one of them. Speak to your doctor about how any drug interactions are being managed or should be managed.

Medications other than those listed above may interact with this medication. Tell your doctor or prescriber about all prescription, over-the-counter (non-prescription), and herbal medications you are taking. Also tell them about any supplements you take. Since caffeine, alcohol, the nicotine from cigarettes, or street drugs can affect the action of many medications, you should let your prescriber know if you use them.