Pneumococcal vaccine

The pneumococcal vaccine helps protect against serious pneumococcal infections, which can lead to pneumonia,septicaemia (a kind of blood poisoning) and meningitis. In some cases they can lead to permanent brain damage, or even death.

A pneumococcal infection can affect anyone, but some people are at higher risk of serious illness and can get the pneumococcal vaccine free from the NHS. 

Who is eligible for the free vaccine?

  • Adults older than 65: People aged 65 or older need a single pneumococcal immunisation, which will help protect them for life.

  • Children: Children younger than two years are offered doses of the vaccine as part of the routine childhood immunisation programme. Some children with a health condition, older than two years, may require additional doses.
  • People with long term conditions: People with long-term health conditions usually need a single one-off immunisation or five-yearly immunisation, depending on their underlying health condition.

What is pneumococcal infection?

This infection is caused by pneumococcal bacteria. It can cause serious illness, such as pneumonia and meningitis.

How is pneumococcal infection spread?

Some adults, and up to 60 percent of children, carry the bacteria in the back of their nose and throat, and can pass them around by coughing, sneezing and close contact. Usually this doesn’t result in serious illness.

Why should I worry about pneumococcal infection?

Pneumococcal infection can cause bronchitis, ear and sinus infections, life-threatening infection of the blood (septicaemia), meningitis and pneumonia (which can also be life-threatening).

Children younger than two years of age, people aged 65 or older, and children and adults with certain health conditions have a higher chance of becoming unwell with pneumococcal infection. People aged 65 or older are more likely to suffer serious long-term health problems from pneumococcal infection, and can even die.

How serious is pneumococcal meningitis?

About 85 percent of people who get pneumococcal meningitis recover, usually without any long-term problems. Survivors of pneumococcal meningitis, however, are more likely to develop complications than survivors of other bacterial causes of meningitis. These complications include deafness, seizures and long-term brain damage.

Who should get the vaccine?

The pneumococcal vaccine is recommended for many of the same people who get an annual flu vaccine.

Pneumococcal immunisation is available in the England for all people aged 65 years and older. For anyone younger than 65, including children, GPs may provide immunisation for people with the following serious medical conditions:

  • Problems with the spleen, either because the spleen has been removed or doesn’t work properly.
  • Chronic lung disease, including chronic bronchitis or emphysema.
  • Serious heart conditions.
  • Severe kidney disease.
  • Long-term liver disease.
  • Diabetes that requires medication.
  • Lowered immunity due to disease or treatment, such as those with HIV, receiving chemotherapy for cancer, or who are on long-term oral steroids for conditions such as asthma.
  • Cochlear implants.
  • Cerebrospinal fluid leaks.
  • Children younger than five years who have previously had invasive pneumococcal disease, such as meningitis or bacteraemia (presence of bacteria in the blood).

If you’re unsure whether you or your child should get the vaccine, speak to your GP or practice nurse.

Why shouldn’t everyone have the pneumococcal vaccine?

Not everyone is at high risk of developing serious illness. The maximum risk is in those aged 65 or older, and those younger than 65 with any of the serious medical conditions listed. Children younger than two years are also at increased risk.

Does the vaccine have any possible side effects?

The pneumococcal vaccine is very safe, although, like all vaccinations, it can cause side effects. It’s not possible to catch a pneumococcal infection from the vaccine, as the vaccine does not contain any live bacteria.

Possible side effects in babies:

  • A decreased appetite.
  • A slightly raised temperature.
  • Irritability.
  • Redness and swelling at the site of the injection.
  • Feeling sleepy or not sleeping well.

Side effects in adults and children older than two:

  • Mild soreness or hardness at the site of the injection lasting one to three days.
  • A slightly raised temperature.

More serious side effects of the vaccine, such as allergic reactions, are rare. Call NHS 111 if you're concerned. 

How effective is the vaccine?

Getting the vaccine is the best way to help protect yourself against infections caused by the most common types of pneumococcal bacteria. It doesn’t protect you against infections caused by all pneumococcal bacteria.

How safe is the vaccine?

Before they are allowed to be used, all medicines (including vaccines) are tested to assess their safety and effectiveness. Once they have been licensed for use, their safety continues to be monitored.

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, called an anaphylactic reaction, to the pneumococcal vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine, it may not be possible for you to have it. If it was only a mild reaction, such as a rash, it’s generally safe to have the vaccine.

Report side effects

You can report suspected side effects by visiting www.yellowcard.gov.uk or by calling the Yellow Card hotline on 0808 100 3352.

Where can I get more information

Visit nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/pneumococcal-vaccination for more information. You can also talk to your practice nurse or GP, or call NHS 111. You can also visit 111.nhs.uk.