When to Give Spleen Vaccines After Splenectomy for Trauma

I’ve written previously on the (f)utility of giving vaccines after splenectomy for trauma (click here to read). However, it is more or less a medicolegal standard, so pretty much everyone gives them. The big question is, when? 

Some centers give them immediately postop, some before hospital discharge, and some during their postop visit. Who is right? The argument is that major surgery produces some degree of immunocompromise. So if the vaccines are given too early, perhaps the anitbodies will not be processed as effectively, and the response to an actual bacterial challenge might not be as good.

One prospective study randomized patients to receive their pneumococcal vaccine either 1, 7, or 14 days after surgery. IgG levels were measured before vaccination and again after 4 weeks. This study found that antibody concentrations were the same in all groups. However, functional activity of the antibodies was low in the 1 and 7 day groups, and nearly normal in the 14 day group.

Following this, a rat study looked at vaccination timing followed by exposure to pneumococcus. These animals were splenectomized, then given a real or sham vaccination at 1, 7, or 42 days. They then had pneumococcus injected into their peritoneal cavity. About 70% of all rats with sham vaccination died. Only 1.5% of the vaccinated rats died, and there were no differences based on vaccination timing.

Bottom line: Neither antibody titer studies nor rat studies easily translate into recommendations for treating overwhelming post-splenectomy sepsis (OPSS) in humans. And such a study can never be done because of the rarity of this condition (less than 70 cases since the beginning of time). It really boils down to your specific population, balancing your assurance that your patient will get it against the possibility that their immune system may not react to it as much as it could. 

At our center, we give the vaccines as soon as possible postoperatively. This ensures that it is given, and erases any doubt of what might happen if the patient does not show up for their postop check.


  • Immune responses of splenectomized trauma patietns to the 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine at 1 versus 7 versus 14 days after splenectomy. J Trauma 44(5):760-766, 1998.
  • Timing of vaccination does not affect antibody response or survival after pneumococcal challenge in splenectomized rats. J Trauma 45(4):682-697, 1998.

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