Pneumococcal Disease: The Disease and The Vaccine

This page provides a brief summary of the disease and the vaccine that is available to prevent it. Links to more detailed information are provided at the bottom of the page.

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What is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. It is a major cause of illness and death, particularly amongst the very young, the very old, those who have an absent or non-functioning spleen, or those with weakened immunity. There are over 90 different types of pneumococcal bacteria.

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How do people get pneumococcal disease?

Bacteria are spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing or close contact. The bacteria can be carried in the nose and throat without doing any harm but sometimes they can invade the lungs and bloodstream causing pneumonia, septicaemia and meningitis.

Everybody is at risk of getting pneumococcal disease but older people and very young children are most at risk from infection. Particularly at risk are people who are already ill, have no spleen or have a weakened immune system.

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What are the symptoms of pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal bacteria can cause localised infections such as middle ear infections, bronchitis or sinusitis.

If pneumococcal bacteria invade the body they cause more serious diseases, such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs), meningitis (inflammation of the lining around the brain), septicaemia (blood poisoning) and osteomyelitis (infection of the bone). These types of infection are referred to as invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD). 

Invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) is a very serious disease. It is a major cause of illness and death, particularly amongst the very young, the very old, those who have an absent or non-functioning spleen, or those with weakened immunity. It is a major cause of pneumonia in the community.

Of those who become infected 1 in 4 will develop pneumonia, 1 in 4 will develop meningitis, and 1 in 10 will die. 

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Which pneumococcal vaccines are recommended in Ireland?

Over the years Streptococcus pneumoniae has become resistant to many medications making the treatment of pneumococcal infections much more difficult. Prevention of disease through vaccination is now more important than ever.

There are two different pneumococcal vaccines to prevent pneumococcal infections

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) which is given to all babies as part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule. This vaccine protects babies against the 13 most common types of pneumococcal disease.

Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV23) which is for those aged 65 years and older and those over 2 years with long term medical conditions.

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Who should get PCV13 Pneumococcal vaccine?

Pneumococcal disease is prevented by vaccination.

  • The PCV vaccination is given as part of the primary childhood immunisation schedule at 2, 6 and 13 months of age through GP practices. 
  • PCV vaccination is not routinely recommended for those aged 2 or older unless they are at high risk of pneumococcal infection

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Who should not get PCV13 Pneumococcal vaccine?

PCV vaccine is not routinely recommended for children over 2 years of age.

There are very few people who should not get PCV vaccine. Your child should not get the vaccine if they have had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous dose of the vaccine or any part of a vaccine.

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What to expect after PCV Pneumococcal vaccine?

After getting the vaccine, your child may have discomfort, redness or swelling around the area where the injection was given. They may be irritable and have a fever.

If this happens you can give liquid infant paracetamol or infant ibuprofen. You should also give plenty to drink. Make sure your child is not too warm and that clothes are not rubbing against the injection area. 

Children usually recover from these minor side effects within a day or two.

  • 1 in 10 people who get the vaccine will have discomfort or swelling where the vaccine was given or will have a fever
  • Vomiting, diarrhoea, decreased appetite may occur.

Serious side effects are very rare.

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How does PCV vaccine work?

PCV vaccine contains extracts from the pneumococcal bacteria. The vaccine works by making the body's immune system respond to the bacteria, without causing disease. 

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How effective is the PCV pneumococcal vaccine?

PCV is a very effective vaccine and protects against up to 80% of pneumococcal bacteria that cause IPD. Since the introduction of PCV into the routine childhood immunisation schedule we have already seen a considerable reduction in the number of cases of IPD.

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Where can I find out more?

You can ask for further information regarding immunisation from your G.P., Public Health Nurse or local health office.

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This page was updated on 22 March 2023