The pneumococcal vaccine
The pneumococcal vaccine protects against serious and potentially fatal pneumococcal infections that are caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae. These infections can lead to pneumonia, septicaemia and meningitis, more severely brain damage and even death. More than 90 different strains of the pneumococcal bacterium have been identified, although most of these strains do not cause serious infections.
Both the PPV and the PCV are inactivated or “killed” vaccines and do not contain any live organisms. They cannot cause the disease they protect against.
The different types of pneumococcal vaccine
There are 2 types of pneumococcal vaccine; the type of you are given depends on your age and health.
- Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) is used to vaccinate children under 2 years old as part of the GHA childhood vaccination programme. It is known by the brand name Prevenar 13.
- Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) is given to people aged 65 and over and to people classed as high risk due to long-term health conditions. The PPV vaccine is thought to be around 50 to 70% effective at preventing pneumococcal disease.
The PPV vaccine is not very effective in children under the age of 2. Children at risk of pneumococcal infections can have the PPV vaccine from the age of 2 years onwards.
How does the pneumococcal vaccine work?
Both types of pneumococcal vaccine encourage your body to produce antibodies against pneumococcal bacteria. These antibodies protect you from becoming ill if you are infected with the bacteria. (Antibodies are proteins produced by the body to neutralise or destroy disease-carrying organisms and toxins).
Who should have the pneumococcal vaccine?
A pneumococcal infection can affect anyone, although some people are at higher risk of serious illness than others. These include:
- adults aged 65 or over
- children and adults with certain long-term health conditions, such as a serious heart or kidney condition
How often is the pneumococcal vaccine given?
Babies born on or after 1 January 2020 are given 2 doses of pneumococcal vaccine at 12 weeks and then at 1 year.
Babies born before 1 January 2020 will continue to be offered 3 doses, at 8 and 16 weeks and a booster at 1 year.
People aged 65 and over only need a single pneumococcal vaccination, unlike the flu jab which is given annually.
People with a long-term health conditions may need just a single one-off pneumococcal vaccination or one every 5 years, depending on their underlying health condition.
When should you not have the pneumococcal vaccine?
Occasionally, you or your child may need to delay having the vaccination or avoid it completely. For instance, in case of:
- Vaccine allergy
Please inform your GP if you or your child has had a bad reaction to any vaccination in the past. If it was only a mild reaction, such as a rash, it’s generally safe to have the vaccine, but if there has been a confirmed severe allergic reaction, called an anaphylactic reaction, to the pneumococcal vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine, it may not be possible for you to have it.
- Fever at the vaccination appointment
If you or your child are mildly unwell at the time of the vaccination, it is safe to have the vaccine. However, if you or your child are more seriously ill (e.g. with a high temperature and feeling hot and shivery), it is best to delay the vaccination until after recovery.
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Having the pneumococcal vaccine is believed to be safe during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. It is okay if you prefer to wait until you have had your baby if you are pregnant, unless the benefits of having the vaccine outweigh the risks to your child.
Side effects of the pneumococcal vaccine
There are no serious side effects listed for either the childhood or adult versions of the vaccine, apart from an extremely rare risk of serious allergic reaction. Like most vaccines, the childhood and adult versions of the pneumococcal vaccine can sometimes cause mild side effects. These include:
- a mild fever
- redness at the site of the injection
- hardness or swelling at the site of the injection