Life threatening pneumococcal infections: For whom the vaccination makes sense

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Pneumococcus: Vaccination protects against dangerous infection
According to estimates, around 5,000 people die each year in Germany from a pneumococcal infection. And this despite the fact that vaccination can protect against the pathogens. Experts explain what needs to be considered.

Severe diseases caused by widespread bacteria
Pneumococci are bacteria that can be found in many people in the mouth, nose and throat – usually without causing any disease. However, if the immune system cannot keep the pathogens in check, they can spread and cause infections such as sinusitis or otitis. However, potentially life-threatening diseases such as meningitis and blood poisoning can also be caused by these bacteria. Pneumococcal pneumonia is also a major cause of pneumonia. Nevertheless, experts warn that too few people are protected against the pathogens.

5,000 deaths per year from pneumococcae
According to estimates, around 5,000 people die every year in Germany from a pneumococcal infection. Infants and young children in particular are at risk because their immune systems are not yet mature.

But even older people or those suffering from chronic diseases are more likely to contract pneumococcal infections due to the bacteria. There is currently no nationwide obligation to report pneumococcal infections.

A total of 97 different pathogen types are distinguished. Not all of them are dangerous.

A vaccination can protect against an infection.

Health experts of Stiftung Warentest explain on their website what has to be considered.

Sensible vaccination?
For all persons recommended by the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) for pneumococcal vaccination, the health insurance funds bear the costs: for children up to two years of age and adults over 60 as well as immunocompromised persons and people with certain chronic diseases.

The experts at Stiftung Warentest consider the vaccination of children against pneumococcus to be sensible, while that of older people and high-risk patients is likely to be sensible; from their point of view, however, the benefits should be better documented.

Two vaccine types are available
According to the information, there are two types of vaccine: Polysaccharide – a vaccine from the sugars of the bacterial envelope – and conjugate – in which the polysaccharides are still bound to a protein molecule.

According to Stiftung Warentest, polysaccharide vaccines are not effective enough for children up to the age of two and for immunocompromised persons.

This is why two conjugate vaccines are approved for small children: Prevenar, which protects against 13 types of pathogens, and Synflorix, which only covers ten types. The Foundation’s experts recommend Prevenar.

On the other hand, people over the age of 60 should be vaccinated with Pneumovax. That is a polysaccharide vaccine, which protects beside the 13 pathogen types from Prevenar additionally against ten further and thus broader.

Since most small children are vaccinated against pneumococcus, there is clear “herd protection” for the 13 pathogen types, i.e. high vaccination rates in children also protect the elderly.

In order for them to respond better to the vaccination, the experts recommend vaccination with both substances to high-risk patients such as immunocompromised persons.

Healthy people between the ages of two and 59 therefore do not need the vaccination.

Complications are rare
The pneumococcal vaccination is carried out with inactivated vaccine, which can be injected in parallel with others, for example with the flu vaccination – but not in the same arm or thigh.

Children up to the age of two are vaccinated against pneumococcus three times in certain months of life.

This is also possible at the same time as another vaccination such as the six-fold vaccination against diphtheria, tetanus (tetanus), polio, whooping cough (pertussis), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and hepatitis B).

As the Stiftung Warentest writes, complications caused by the pneumococcal vaccination are very rare. Side effects can occur, but in most cases they are over within a few days:

The puncture site often reddens, swells or hurts. General signs of illness such as fever and headaches can also occur.

Furthermore, children are sometimes sleepy, irritable and cry more after the vaccination.

Diseases are seasonal, especially in the cold months.
Pneumococcal diseases have especially in the wet and cold season season.

The bacteria are transmitted by droplet infections such as coughing and sneezing.

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