Pneumococcal vaccine also known as the “pneumo jab” or pneumonia vaccine, protects against serious and potentially fatal pneumococcal infections.
Pneumococcal infections are caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae and can lead to pneumonia, septicaemia (a kind of blood poisoning) and meningitis. At their worst, they can cause permanent brain damage, or even death.
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.
More than 90 different strains of the pneumococcal bacterium have been identified, though only 8 to 10 of them cause the most serious infections.
Who should have the pneumococcal vaccine and how often it is given?
Some people are at higher risk of serious illness and can be given the pneumococcal vaccination. These includes:
- Babies. They should receive the pneumococcal vaccine as three separate injections, at 8 weeks, 16 weeks and one year old.
- Adults aged 65 or over. They only need a single pneumococcal vaccination, which will protect for life. It is not given annually like the flu jab.
- Children and adults with certain long-term health conditions, such as a serious heart or kidney condition may need just a single one-off pneumococcal vaccination or five-yearly vaccination, depending on their underlying health problem
The different types of pneumonia vaccine
Your age and health will determine the type of pneumococcal vaccine that will be given to you. The two types are:
- pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) – this is used to vaccinate children under two years old.
- 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.
Children at risk of pneumococcal infections can have the PPV vaccine from the age of two years onwards.
Who shouldn’t have the pneumo jab?
Occasionally, you or your child may need to delay having the vaccination or avoid it completely because of the following:
- Vaccine allergy. 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.
- Fever at the vaccination appointment. if you or your child are seriously ill or have ghigh temperature at the day of the vaccination, it’s best to delay the vaccination until after recovery. If you or your child are just mildly unwell at the time of the vaccination, you may take the vaccine.
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding. As a precaution to pregnant women, 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, pneumococcal vaccine can sometimes cause mild side effects, including a mild fever, redness at the site of the injection and/or hardness or swelling at the site of the injection
Apart from an extremely small risk of serious allergic reaction, there are no serious side effects listed for either the childhood or adult versions of the vaccine.