Medical Matters > Vaccines: Pneumococcal (Pneumonia)

ME Essential Summer 2019

Question

I have been offered the pneumococcal vaccine by my GP as I am over 65. I have had mild to moderate ME/CFS for about 10 years. My immediate reaction was to say NO WAY, as I find any infection causes a crash that lasts for weeks. I also understand that vaccinations can sometimes trigger ME/CFS, or cause a relapse of existing ME/CFS. I appreciate that this vaccine provides protection against an infection that can have serious consequences for the elderly and other people with health conditions that place them at increased risk. So, do you know of any people with ME/CFS who have had this vaccine?

Answer

This vaccine provides a high level of protection against pneumococcal infections – caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae – which can lead to pneumonia, or septicaemia (blood poisoning), as well as meningitis. All of which can be very serious, cause permanent brain damage and be fatal. A single dose of the vaccine provides lifelong protection.

Healthy people do not appear to have any significant problems with side-effects from this vaccine. Minor side effects can include a mild fever and soreness and/or swelling at the injection site. Serious side-effects appear to be very rare. The pneumococcal vaccine is being routinely offered to people over the age of 65 and those with other health conditions that place them at increased risk from this infection.

However, if you have had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccination in the past, do let your doctor know as this may contraindicate its use. I only know of a small number of people with ME/CFS who have received the vaccination so far and we have not received any reports of significant reactions occurring. But that is no guarantee that you will not have any side-effects, or an exacerbation of your ME/CFS symptoms. If there are good indications for having this protection (and a pneumococcal infection would probably cause a significant relapse in ME/CFS), it is something that you should seriously consider and discuss with your GP.

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MEDICAL DISCLAIMER

Medical Matters is for information purposes only. The answers provided by Dr Shepherd and the ME Association’s other expert advisers should not be construed as medical advice. We recommend that any information you deem relevant is discussed with your GP as soon as possible. It is important to obtain advice from a GP who is in charge of your clinical care, who knows you well, and who can consider other likely causes for symptoms. Seek personalised medical advice whenever a new symptom arises, or an existing symptom worsens. Don't assume that new or worsened symptoms are a result of having ME/CFS.

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