Preventing pneumococcal disease: a vaccine success story

26 May 2013

Vaccinating all young children and older adults against pneumococcal infection has substantially reduced this disease in Australia, according to experts from the Children’s Hospital at Westmead. What’s more, the vaccine program has reduced pneumococcal infections in the general population, including those who were not vaccinated.

Writing in the upcoming June edition of Australian Prescriber, Dr Clayton Chiu and Professor Peter McIntyre say that pneumococcal vaccination has had good success in Australia, and the continued refinement of the vaccine is likely to lead to even further reduction of the disease.

“Pneumococcal vaccines are designed to prevent infections caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. This includes illnesses such as meningitis and pneumonia which can be fatal,” they write.

“Serious pneumococcal disease is most common among young children, especially those under two years, and in the elderly.”

In 2005 Australia brought in universal pneumococcal vaccination of all young children and all adults aged 65 and over.

“Since this program started, there have been fewer serious infections not only in vaccinated individuals, but also in those who had not received the vaccine, such as older children and adults under 65,” write the authors.

“This ‘herd immunity’ is very important in protecting the whole population from infection.”

In addition to infant vaccination, pneumococcal vaccination is recommended for healthy non-indigenous adults aged 65 and over. Healthy indigenous adults are recommended to have the vaccine from 50 years of age. It is also recommended for those with an increased risk of disease – such as people who smoke, those with diabetes or severe asthma, and those with a weakened immune system.

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For more information on vaccines and who should have them, including detailed information about the pneumococcal vaccine, visit the NPS MedicineWise website:

People with questions about their medicine can also call the NPS Medicines Line (1300 633 424), Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm AEST.


Australian Prescriber is an independent peer-reviewed journal providing critical commentary on therapeutic topics for health professionals, particularly doctors in general practice. It is published every two months and distributed to health professionals free of charge, and is also available online at 

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