The pneumococcal vaccine (or 'pneumo jab' or pneumonia vaccine as it's also known) protects against pneumococcal infections.
Pneumococcal infections are caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae and can lead to pneumonia, septicaemia (a kind of blood poisoning) and meningitis.
Who should have the pneumococcal vaccine?
A pneumococcal infection can affect anyone. However, some people need the pneumococcal vaccination because they are at higher risk of complications. These include:
all children under the age of two
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 receive the pneumococcal vaccine as three separate injections, at 2 months, 4 months and 12-13 months.
People over-65 only need a single pneumococcal vaccination which will protect for life. It is not given annually like the flu jab.
People with a long term health condition may need just a single one-off pneumococcal vaccination or five-yearly vaccination depending on their underlying health problem.
Two types of pneumonia vaccine
There are two different types of pneumococcal vaccine:
pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) – this is given to all children under two years old as part of the childhood vaccination programme. It's known by the brand name Prevenar 13.
pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) – this is given to people aged 65 and over, and to people at high risk due to long term health conditions
More than 90 different strains of the pneumococcal bacterium have been identified, though only between eight and 10 of them cause the most serious infections.
The childhood vaccine (PCV) protects against 13 strains of the pneumococcal bacterium, while the adult vaccine (PPV) protects against 23 strains.
The pneumococcal vaccine is thought to be around 50 to 70% effective at preventing pneumococcal disease.
Who shouldn't have the pneumo jab?
Occasionally, you or your child may need to delay having the vaccination 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, called an anaphylactic reaction, to the pneumococcal vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine, it's best to avoid having it. However, if it was only a mild reaction, such as a rash, it is generally safe to have the vaccine.
Unwell with a fever
If you or your child are mildly unwell at the time of the vaccination, it's safe to have the vaccine. However, if you or your child are more seriously ill – for example with a high temperature – it's best to delay the vaccination until after recovery.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
It's thought to be safe to have the pneumococcal vaccine during pregnancy and while you're breastfeeding. But, as a precaution, if you are pregnant you may want to wait until you have had your baby (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, including:
a mild fever
redness at the site of the injection
hardness or swelling at the site of the injection
There are no serious side effects listed for either the childhood or adult versions of the vaccine apart from an extremely small risk of serious allergic reaction.