Vaccines have been a hot topic this year due to the pandemic and the race to immunize adults and now kids against the virus that causes COVID-19. But vaccines have long been recommended for babies and children in order to prevent serious illnesses like mumps, polio, Hepatitis B and whooping cough. In fact, the Government of Canada’s National Immunization Strategy for children targets up to 12 vaccine-preventable diseases including invasive pneumococcal disease, a family of infections caused by harmful bacteria.
What is invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD)?
Not as well known as chicken pox or measles, IPD is caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. These bacteria are spread through droplets produced by talking, coughing or sneezing. Babies and toddlers one of the groups that are more susceptible to falling ill because of their immature immune systems. When these bacteria get into the lungs, blood or brain—they can cause serious infections.
What kinds of pneumococcal infections are there, and what are the symptoms?
The pneumococcus bacteria causes up to half of middle ear infections in young kids. Most parents are familiar with the signs of an ear infection, which include fever, ear pain (often apparent because the child pulls at the affected ear), a red eardrum and fussiness or sleeplessness.
IPD infections can also occur in the lungs (bacteremic pneumonia), blood (sepsis or bacteremia) and brain or spinal cord (meningitis). The symptoms depend on which part of the body is infected, and range from fever, rapid and laboured breathing and a cough with pneumonia to a stiff neck, fever, sensitivity to light and sluggishness, with meningitis. Symptoms of sepsis include a fever, chills, low alertness and clammy or sweaty skin. If left untreated, the most serious IPD infections in the blood or brain can result in complications and even death.
IPD could be prevented with vaccinations
Pneumococcal vaccines are part of Canada’s regular childhood immunization schedule. Vaccinated can help prevent IPD but cannot treat the active infection. In such cases, invasive pneumococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends Pneu-C-13 (Prevnar 13) as the current product of choice for routine infant immunization schedule. Prevnar 13 is a pneumococcal-conjugated vaccine that protects against 13 strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. A shot is given in the leg or arm at two months, four months, and a booster at 11 or 12 months.
Following Prevnar 13 introduction in the Calgary area in mid-2010, the overall pneumococcal nasopharyngeal colonization rate in healthy children declined. Since 2001, more than 4.5 million children have been vaccinated with Prevnar* and Prevnar 13 in Canada. Like most childhood vaccines, the cost is covered by your province or territory (except in Quebec**).
Why babies need three doses
Many vaccines require more than one dose over time to help the body build its own immunity protection. What’s more, most vaccines require boosters that remind your immune system what it’s supposed to be on the lookout for. With Prevnar 13, the first two doses jumpstart baby’s immune system and prime it to recognize the bacteria, while the third dose acts like a booster to reinforce the message. Infants at high risk of IPD due to an underlying medical condition may even require a fourth dose. Talk to your doctor to find out if Prevnar 13 is right for your child. Read and follow the indication found at www.prevnarinfant.ca.*
Stay on schedule with your baby’s vaccinations—even during COVID
Early on in the pandemic, doctors worried that parents might skip some of their children’s immunizations over concerns about visiting the vaccination clinic or doctor’s office in person and thus risking exposure to COVID-19. Infection control protocols in place in clinics and health screenings prior to appointments aim to reduce the risk of catching the virus during a vaccine appointment.
The Canadian Paediatric Society urges parents to maintain the immunization schedule for children and youth throughout the pandemic, as any delay or omission in scheduled vaccines puts kids at risk for not only pneumococcal disease, but also other common and serious childhood infections.
To learn more and to sign up for dose reminders, visit PrevnarInfant.ca.