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Is the pneumococcal vaccine a whole bacterium vaccine? Who should receive this vaccine and why is it so important for that particular group to get the vaccine?
The pneumococcal vaccine is composed of segments of the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, and not the entire bacteria. The most commonly given form of pneumococcal vaccine is the polysaccharide vaccine. This vaccine contains a variety of isolated polysaccharides that are distinct to different pneumococcal forms that cause a B-cell mediated immune response (without the help of T-cells) and therefore is only recommended for those who have functioning immune systems, and is generally ineffective in children younger than 2 years old whose immune systems are immature. The other form of the vaccine is the conjugated vaccine. This also contains specific polysaccharides but they are bonded to a diphtheria toxoid protein, which causes a strong immune response but is non-toxic. This vaccine is recommended for children younger than 2 because it is capable of inducing a strong immune response.
Pneumococcal vaccines are recommended for children younger than 2 years old, adults older than 65, or anyone else that is immune compromised or at risk of complications such as those with chronic heart, liver, or lung disease. These individuals have a more difficult time fighting the disease and are much more susceptible to death. In 2013 there were 56,832 pneumonia-related deaths in the U.S.
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