What is it for?
The pneumococcal vaccines prevent people from becoming infected with a particular type of bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae (or S. pneumoniae).
S. pneumoniae is a bacterium found in your nose, throat and windpipe that can cause:
- pneumonia (lung infection)
- sinus infection (sinusitis)
- middle ear infection (otitis media)
- meningitis (infection of the tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord)
- blood system infection (septicaemia).
S. pneumoniae can spread easily from person to person; for example, if you touch mucous containing the bacteria, which has been coughed up by someone with the infection, you can become infected. Being vaccinated will help to stop the spread of infection.
There are many different types of S. pneumoniae that can cause infection; these are called serotypes. Each pneumococcal vaccine contains a mixture of these different serotypes. Vaccinating your child will protect them against all of the different types of S. pneumoniae contained in the vaccine. For example, Pneumovax 23 will protect you against 23 different serotypes of S. pneumoniae that commonly cause pneumococcal disease.
Anyone, at any age, can get a pneumococcal infection. This can be serious and even life-threatening in babies, young children, older people and people with other illnesses that may weaken their lungs or their immune system (e.g. people with asthma, cystic fibrosis, or HIV infection).
The pneumococcal vaccines are given free as part of the National Immunisation Program schedule to all babies, adults aged 65 years and over, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are 15 years and older.
Two different pneumococcal vaccines are given in Australia:
- 13-valent pneumococcal vaccine (Prevenar 13) is used to protect children from S. pneumoniae (pneumococcal) infection. It can also be given to adults aged 50 years and older.
- 23-valent pneumococcal vaccine (Pneumovax 23) is used to protect children and adults against S. pneumoniae (pneumococcal) infection. This vaccine is not given to children younger than 2 years old because their immune system doesn’t produce a very good response to this type of vaccine (polysaccharide vaccine).
The table below lists who should be vaccinated, with which pneumococcal vaccine and at what age.
|Who should be vaccinated?||Type and brand
|All children aged 6 weeks to 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months
|Children aged 12 months who are at risk of complications (e.g. children with cystic fibrosis)||13-valent
|Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 12 to 18 months living in Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia||13-valent
|Children aged 4 to 5 years who are at risk of complications (e.g. children with cystic fibrosis)||23-valent
|Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 to 49 years at high risk of complications (e.g. people with diabetes, alcohol dependence, heart, kidney or lung disease)||23-valent
|Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are 50 years and older||23-valent
|All adults 65 years and older (who have not previously been vaccinated)||23-valent
A second dose of the pneumococcal vaccine (Pneumovax 23) is recommended, and is available at a reduced price on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, for people who are at increased risk of medical complications if they become infected with S. pneumoniae and who have not been vaccinated in the previous 5 years. This includes people with weakened immune systems due to:
- kidney failure
- organ transplant
- HIV infection
- certain cancers that affect the immune system (including myeloma, lymphoma, and Hodgkin's disease)
- long-term illnesses (including diabetes, alcohol dependence, heart, kidney or lung disease).
It's not known whether or not the pneumococcal vaccines are safe to have during pregnancy so they are generally not recommended.
However, if you are at high risk of infection, or of complications from pneumococcal infection (e.g. if you have weakened immune system), and you have not been vaccinated in the past 5 years, your doctor may recommend that you have the Pneumovax 23 vaccine.
Read more about what vaccines you can have if you are pregnant.
Women who are breastfeeding
There is no known risk to your baby if you are vaccinated with the pneumococcal vaccine while you are breastfeeding.
Women who are breastfeeding can be vaccinated with any vaccine, except the yellow fever vaccine.
Pneumovax 23 may cause:
- muscle pain (myalgia)
- pain, redness and swelling at the injection site
- a lump at the injection site; this generally disappears after a few weeks and does not need treatment
- fever (i.e. a temperature 38.5°C or higher).
Read more about vaccine side effects and safety.
Who can I ask about side effects?
If you’re concerned that you or your child may have had side effects related to a vaccine, seek medical advice. To report and discuss possible side effects, call the Adverse Medicines Events (AME) Line on 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm AEST).
- Community-acquired pneumonia in adults. In: eTG complete [Internet]. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; March 2010.
- Community-acquired pneumonia in children. In: eTG complete [Internet]. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; March 2010.
- Rossi S, ed. eAMH [online]. Adelaide: Australian Medicines Handbook, January 2013.
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. National Immunisation Program. Pneumococcal disease. immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/immunise-pneumococcal
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Therapeutic Goods Administration. Pneumovax 23 — recommendation about revaccination. www.tga.gov.au/safety/alerts-medicine-pneumovax-110416.htm
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Office of Health Protection. Part 4.13 Pneumococcal disease. www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/handbook10-4-13
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Office of Health Protection. Part 3. Vaccination for special risk groups. In: The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 10th edn. www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/handbook10part3
- Pneumococcal vaccines: past, present and future. Chiu C and McIntyre P. Australian Prescriber 2013;36:88–93. www.australianprescriber.com/upload/pdf/online_first/pneumococcal_vaccines.pdf