Pneumococcal Vaccination

What is Pneumococcal Disease?

Pneumococcal disease is used to describe a group of illnesses from mild ear and sinus infections to more severe infections of pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis. The most common cause of these illnesses is the bacteria Streptococcus pneumonia. Many people carry these bacteria in their nose and throat without causing harm but when they invade the lungs or bloodstream they can cause serious infection. The infection is spread from person to person in droplets by coughing, sneezing or close contact.  It is a major cause of illness and death, particularly amongst the very young, the very old, those with long-term medical conditions and those with no spleen or impaired immunity. It is a major cause of pneumonia in the community.

How does the vaccine work?

The vaccination is given as an injection in the arm and can be given at the same time as the flu vaccine. This vaccine protects against 23 types of pneumococcal disease including those most likely to cause severe disease and most people only need to receive the vaccine once. If you are aged under 65 years a booster vaccination (usually given 5 years after the first) may be recommended if you have a condition where your antibody levels are likely to decline rapidly e.g. no spleen, or a condition that weakens your immune system. 

Why is the Pneumococcal Vaccine Important?

The bacteria present in the disease has become resistant to many medications in recent years, therefore prevention through the vaccination is more important than ever. Many people are at risk and it is recommended that they receive the vaccination, this includes everybody aged 65 and over plus adults aged 18 years and over with the following conditions:

Diabetes Mellitus
Chronic heart, respiratory or liver disease
Chronic kidney disease, nephrotic syndrome, kidney transplant
Sickle- cell disease
Those with missing or non-functioning spleens
Immune system disorders including cancer
Persons with Down Syndrome
HIV infections or AIDS
Those receiving chemotherapy or other treatments that suppress the immune system
Those who have received or are about to receive cochlear implants
Persons who smoke
History of alcohol abuse
Individuals with occupational exposure to metal fume (i.e. welders)