The pneumococcal vaccine protects against serious and potentially fatal pneumococcal infections. It's also known as the pneumonia vaccine.
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.
- 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.
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.
Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) is given to people aged 65 and over and people at high risk because they have long-term health conditions.
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.
Who should not have the pneumococcal vaccine
Occasionally, you or your child may need to delay having the pneumococcal vaccine or avoid it completely.
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.
- 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).
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