Pneumococcal infections are caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae and can lead to pneumonia, septicaemia (a kind of blood poisoning) and meningitis. At their worst, they can cause permanent brain damage, or even kill.
Who should have the pneumococcal vaccine?
A pneumococcal infection can affect anyone. However, some people are at higher risk of serious illness and can be given the pneumococcal vaccination on the NHS. These include:
- adults aged 65 or over
- children and adults with certain long-term health conditions, such as a serious heart or kidney condition
Read more about who should have the pneumo jab.
How often is the pneumococcal vaccine given?
Babies receive the pneumococcal vaccine as three separate injections, at 8 weeks, 16 weeks and 1 year old.
People over 65 only need a single pneumococcal vaccination, which will protect for life. It’s not given annually like the flu jab.
People with a long-term health condition may need just a single one-off pneumococcal vaccination or five-yearly vaccination, depending on their underlying health problem.
The different types of pneumonia vaccine
The type of pneumococcal vaccine you’re given depends on your age and health. The two types are:
- pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) – this is used to vaccinate children under 2 years old as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme. It’s known by the brand name Prevenar 13. Read the patient information leaflet for Prevenar 13.
- pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) – this is given to people aged 65 and over and to people at high risk due to long-term health conditions. Read the patient information leaflet for PPV.
Children at risk of pneumococcal infections can have the PPV vaccine from the age of 2 years onwards. It’s thought not to work in children under the age of 2.
How the pneumococcal vaccine works
Both types of pneumococcal vaccine encourage your body to produce antibodies against pneumococcal bacteria. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body to neutralise or destroy disease-carrying organisms and toxins. They protect you from becoming ill if you’re infected with the bacteria.
More than 90 different strains of the pneumococcal bacterium have been identified, although only 8 to 10 of them cause the most serious infections.
The childhood vaccine (PCV) protects against 13 strains of the pneumococcal bacterium, while the adult vaccine (PPV) protects against 23 strains.
The pneumococcal vaccine is thought to be around 50-70% effective at preventing pneumococcal disease.
Both the PPV and the PCV are inactivated or “killed” vaccines and don’t contain any live organisms. They can’t cause the disease against which they protect.
Read more about killed vaccines.
Who shouldn’t have the pneumo jab?
Occasionally, you or your child may need to delay having the vaccination or avoid it completely because of the following:
Tell your GP if you or your child has had a bad reaction to any vaccination in the past. If there’s been a confirmed severe allergic reaction, called an anaphylactic reaction, to the pneumococcal vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine, it’s best to avoid having it. However, if it was only a mild reaction, such as a rash, it’s generally safe to have the vaccine.
Fever at the vaccination appointment
If you or your child are mildly unwell at the time of the vaccination, it’s safe to have the vaccine. However, if you or your child are more seriously ill – for example, with a high temperature – it’s best to delay the vaccination until after recovery.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Having the pneumococcal vaccine is thought to be safe during pregnancy and while you’re breastfeeding. But, as a precaution, if you’re pregnant, you may want to wait until you’ve had your baby (unless the benefits of having the vaccine outweigh the risks to your child).
Side effects of the pneumococcal vaccine
Like most vaccines, the childhood and adult versions of the pneumococcal vaccine can sometimes cause mild side effects, including:
- a mild fever
- redness at the site of the injection
- hardness or swelling at the site of the injection
There are no serious side effects listed for either the childhood or adult versions of the vaccine, apart from an extremely small risk of serious allergic reaction.
Read about the side effects of the pneumococcal vaccination.
This video tells the story of 11-year-old Sam, who had pneumococcal meningitis as a baby (before the childhood pneumococcal vaccine was introduced) and was left severely brain damaged.