Overview

Studies have shown that the pneumococcal vaccine provides some protection against a form of bacterial meningitis caused by pneumococcal bacteria and other conditions such as severe ear infections. The vaccine doesn't protect against all types of pneumococcal infection and doesn't protect against meningitis caused by other bacteria or viruses.

The pneumococcal vaccine's recommended for many of the same people who receive an annual flu vaccine and other selected groups of people at higher risk of developing complications from pneumococcal infection.

The pneumococcal vaccine's usually only given once.

Who needs a pneumococcal vaccination?

Anyone aged 65 years or over is eligible for the vaccine. GPs may, at their own discretion, provide immunisation to anyone aged under 65 with the following serious medical conditions:

  • Problems with the spleen, either because the spleen has been removed or doesn’t work properly - for example sickle cell disorder and coeliac disease
  • Chronic lung disease, including chronic bronchitis or emphysema
  • Serious heart conditions
  • Severe kidney disease
  • Long-term liver disease
  • Diabetes requiring medication
  • Lowered immunity due to disease or treatment - for example HIV, chemotherapy for cancer or long-term oral steroids for conditions such as asthma
  • Cochlear implants
  • Individuals with cerebrospinal fluid leaks
  • Children under 5 years of age who have previously had invasive pneumococcal disease, such as meningitis or bacteraemia

What's pneumococcal infection and how's it spread?

Pneumococcal infection's caused by pneumococcal bacteria and can cause serious illnesses, such as pneumonia. Pneumococcal infection's also one of the most common causes of meningitis (an infection of the lining of the brain).

Some adults carry pneumococcal 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.

More about meningitis, ear infections and pneumonia

Why should I worry about pneumococcal infection?

Pneumococcal infection can cause:

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

People aged 65 or over, and adults with certain health conditions, have a higher chance of becoming unwell with pneumococcal infection. People aged 65 or over are more likely to suffer serious long-term health problems from pneumococcal infection, and can even die.

More about meningitis and septicaemia

The vaccine

The pneumococcal vaccine's given as an injection at your GP practice.

It provides some protection against one of the most common causes of meningitis, and against other conditions such as severe ear infections and pneumonia caused by pneumococcal bacteria. This vaccine doesn't, however, protect against meningitis caused by other bacteria or viruses.

The pneumococcal vaccine's usually only given once. Contact your GP practice to make an appointment to get the vaccine.

What vaccine's used?

The Pneumococcal Polysaccharide vaccine is routinely used in Scotland.

How do we know the vaccine's safe?

All medicines (including vaccines) are tested for safety and effectiveness by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The vaccine meets the high safety standards required for it to be used in the UK and other European countries. The vaccine has been given to millions of people worldwide.

Once they're in use, the safety of vaccines continues to be monitored by the MHRA.

After the vaccine

After having the vaccine there may be side effects, but these are usually mild.

Any reactions are generally minor and disappear within a few days. The vaccine doesn't contain live bacteria and can't cause an infection.

Where can I report suspected side effects?

You can report suspected side effects of vaccines and medicines through the Yellow Card Scheme.

This can be done by:

  • visiting the Yellow Card Scheme website
  • phoning the free Yellow Card hotline on 0808 100 3352 (available Monday to Friday, 10.00am to 2.00pm)

Further information

If you’re unsure about anything, or have any questions about the pneumococcal vaccine for adults, phone:

Immunisation leaflet

NHS Health Scotland have produced a leaflet explaining the pneumococcal vaccination in Scotland, why it's offered and when it's given.

This leaflet's also available in Easy Read English and other languages - including Polish, Simplified Chinese and Urdu.

Pneumococcal vaccine. Helps protect against pneumonia and meningitis

Audio leaflet

Vaccine Safety Net Member

NHS inform is a proud member of the Vaccine Safety Net.

The Vaccine Safety Net is a global network of websites, evaluated by the World Health Organization, that provides reliable information on vaccine safety.

More about the Vaccine Safety Net