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Pneumococcal vaccine overview

The pneumococcal vaccine protects against serious and potentially fatal pneumococcal infections. It's also known as the pneumonia vaccine.

Pneumococcal infections are caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae and can lead to pneumonia, blood poisoning (sepsis) and meningitis.

At their worst, they can cause permanent brain damage, or even kill.

Who should have the pneumococcal vaccine

Anyone can get a pneumococcal infection. But some people are at higher risk of serious illness, so it's recommended they're given the pneumococcal vaccination on the NHS.

These include:

  • babies
  • adults aged 65 or over
  • children and adults with certain long-term health conditions, such as a serious heart or kidney condition

Babies are offered 2 doses of pneumococcal vaccine, at 12 weeks and at 1 year of age.

People aged 65 and over only need a single pneumococcal vaccination. This vaccine is not given annually like the flu jab.

If you have a long-term health condition you may only need a single, one-off pneumococcal vaccination, or a vaccination every 5 years, depending on your underlying health problem.

Find out who should have the pneumococcal vaccine

The different types of pneumococcal vaccine

The type of pneumococcal vaccine you're given depends on your age and health. There are 2 types.

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) is used to vaccinate children under 2 years old as part of the NHS vaccination schedule. It's known by the brand name Prevenar 13.

Read the patient information leaflet for Prevenar 13 on the electronic medicines compendium website

Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) is given to people aged 65 and over and people at high risk because they have long-term health conditions. 

Read the patient information leaflet for PPV on the electronic medicines compendium website

Children at risk of pneumococcal infections can have the PPV vaccine from the age of 2 years onwards. The PPV vaccine is not very effective 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 most of these strains do not cause serious infections.

The childhood vaccine (PCV) protects against 13 strains of the pneumococcal bacterium, while the adult vaccine (PPV) protects against 23 strains.

Effectiveness of the pneumococcal vaccine

Children respond very well to the pneumococcal vaccine.

The introduction of this vaccine into the NHS childhood vaccination schedule has resulted in a large reduction in pneumococcal disease.

The pneumococcal vaccine given to older children and adults is thought to be around 50 to 70% effective at preventing pneumococcal disease.

Both types of pneumococcal vaccine are inactivated or "killed" vaccines and do not contain any live organisms. They cannot cause the infections they protect against.

Find out more about why vaccination is safe and important

Who should not have the pneumococcal vaccine

Occasionally, you or your child may need to delay having the pneumococcal vaccine or avoid it completely.

Vaccine allergy

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 (anaphylaxis) to the pneumococcal vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine, it may not be possible for you to have it.

But 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.

But if you or your child are more seriously ill (for example, with a high temperature and feeling hot and shivery), 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, you may want to wait until you’ve had your baby if you're pregnant, 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.

These include:

  • a slightly raised temperature
  • redness where the injection was given
  • hardness or swelling where the injection was given

There are no serious side effects listed for either the childhood or adult versions of the vaccine, apart from an extremely rare risk of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

Find out more about the side effects of the pneumococcal vaccination

Watch a YouTube video about 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.

Page last reviewed: 14 February 2019
Next review due: 14 February 2022