Pneumococcal vaccine

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:

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.

Who should be vaccinated?

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
13-valent
(Prevenar 13)
Children aged 12 months who are at risk of complications (e.g. children with cystic fibrosis) 13-valent
(Prevenar 13)
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 12 to 18 months living in Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia 13-valent
(Prevenar 13)
Children aged 4 to 5 years who are at risk of complications (e.g. children with cystic fibrosis) 23-valent
(Pneumovax 23)
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
(Pneumovax 23)
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are 50 years and older 23-valent
(Pneumovax 23)
All adults 65 years and older (who have not previously been vaccinated) 23-valent
(Pneumovax 23)

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).

Pregnant women

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.

Side effects

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).

References

Related information - pneumococcal vaccine

Audience:
       

(Medicine)
09 Mar 2016 Prevenar 13 Suspension for injection is a brand of medicine containing the active ingredient pneumococcal vaccine. Find out about side effects, who can take it and who shouldn’t use Prevenar 13 Suspension for injection by reading the latest Australian consumer medicine information, plus tips on how to use medicines wisely and safely.
(Medicine)
24 Aug 2015 Synflorix Suspension for injection is a brand of medicine containing the active ingredient pneumococcal vaccine. Find out about side effects, who can take it and who shouldn’t use Synflorix Suspension for injection by reading the latest Australian consumer medicine information, plus tips on how to use medicines wisely and safely.
(Medicine)
09 Sep 2014 Pneumovax 23 Solution for injection is a brand of medicine containing the active ingredient pneumococcal vaccine. Find out about side effects, who can take it and who shouldn’t use Pneumovax 23 Solution for injection by reading the latest Australian consumer medicine information, plus tips on how to use medicines wisely and safely.
(Medicine)
30 Apr 2014 Find out about the asthma medicines you may be prescribed if you are not achieving good asthma control, or if you are hospitalised with an asthma attack.
(Media release)
22 Nov 2013 During Antibiotic Awareness Week (18-24 November) NPS MedicineWise is urging health professionals to use vaccinations as one important way to limit Australia’s use of antibiotics
For health professionals (Health professional publication)
20 Nov 2013 Immunisation can limit the spread of resistant bacterial strains. Are your patients up-to-date with the National Immunisation Program Schedule?
(Consumer publication)
06 Nov 2013 If you have long-term lung problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may be at a higher risk of complications from a cold, flu or other respiratory tract infection (RTI), and antibiotics may be an appropriate treatment for you.
(Condition)
22 Jun 2012 You can prevent pneumonia (a respiratory tract infection) through good hygiene practices and vaccination. Learn more about pneumonia prevention here.
For health professionals (Health professional publication)
01 Dec 2009 Information about use of the 10-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide conjugate vaccine, Synflorix, for Streptococcus pneumoniae