Pneumococcus can cause diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis and blood infections. Children aged under two years are offered the vaccine. You should consider having the vaccine if you are aged over 65 years or have certain diseases of the lung, heart, kidney, liver, and nervous system.
Pneumococcus is a bacterium (germ) which can cause pneumonia, meningitis and some other infections. Pneumonia caused by pneumococcus occurs in about 1 in 1,000 adults each year. Pneumococcal infection can affect anybody. However, young children, older people and some other groups of people are at increased risk of developing a pneumococcal infection.
Three groups of people should be immunised:
Immunisation against pneumococcus is part of the routine childhood immunisation programme. The routine schedule consists of three injections which are normally given at age two months, four months and between the ages of 12 and 13 months.
All people aged 65 or over should be immunised. This consists of a one-off injection.
Any person over the age of two months in an at-risk group should be immunised. That is, if you:
There are two types of vaccine to protect against pneumococcal infection:
Both are given by injection. Both of these vaccines contain several components to protect against several types (strains) of the pneumococcus. They differ in the number of types that they protect against. Also, the PPV does not work very well in young children. Therefore, the vaccine given and the number of doses depends on your age. The PCV and PPV vaccines do not contain thiomersal, they do not contain live organisms and so cannot cause any of the diseases against which they protect.
The vaccines stimulate your body to make antibodies against pneumococcal bacteria. These antibodies protect you from illness should you become infected with pneumococcal bacteria. The vaccines protect against many (but not all) types of pneumococcal bacteria.
Children are routinely offered three injections of PCV at age two months, four months and between 12 and 13 months. The first two are usually given at the same time as the DTaP/IPV(polio)/Hib injection - this stands for 'diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough)/polio/Haemophilus influenzae type b' - (but given in a different part of the body with a separate needle and syringe). The third dose, at between 12 and 13 months, is usually given at the same time as the Hib/MenC vaccine - this stands for 'H. influenzae type b/meningitis C' and the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella).
If a child between the ages of one and five years has not had any previous dose of PCV, or only had one previous dose, then a single dose of PCV should be given.
People aged 65 and over and all other people at any age in any of the at-risk groups listed above should be immunised with PPV. PPV is normally given just once. It provides lifelong protection against many types of pneumococcus.
Children who are in an at-risk group and have previously had their routine immunisations with PCV should also have one injection of PPV as soon as possible after their second birthday (but at least two months after the final dose of PCV).
Children who are in an at-risk group under the age of five years who have not previously had routine immunisations with PCV will need both PCV and PPV. The dose schedules depend on age and circumstances. Your doctor will advise you about this.
Pneumococcal immunisation usually causes no problems. Mild soreness and a lump at the injection site sometimes occur. A mild fever may develop for a day or so. These side-effects are usually minor and soon go away.
Rarely, some people react badly to the vaccine. You will normally be asked by the doctor or nurse to wait several minutes after having the immunisation to make sure that you have not reacted. You should seek urgent medical advice if breathlessness, swelling or a rash develops within a few days of immunisation. However, this is extremely rare.
The vaccine may be given to pregnant women when the need for protection is required without delay. It is safe to have if you are breast-feeding.