This vaccine gives protection against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria that all cause pneumococcal disease. There are over 90 different types of pneumococcal bacteria, and they cause a range of problems including ear infections and pneumonia (serious chest infections). Pneumococcal disease can also cause life-threatening conditions such as meningitis and septicamia (blood poisoning). Vaccines have been produced to protect against the types that cause the most disease.
The vaccine is inactivated, which means it does not contain any live pneumococcal bacteria. It cannot cause pneumococcal disease.
The PCV is given to all babies at 2, 4 and 12-13 months of age in the UK schedule. The repeated doses are necessary to give a good immune response in the majority of children. It can safely be given at the same time as other vaccines in the schedule. For more on this, see multiple vaccinations. There is a similar vaccine for older adults (the Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine).
Pneumococcal vaccines are also recommended for people of all ages with some health conditions who are at greater risk of complications from pneumococcal disease. This includes people with:
In the short film below, Dr Andrew Prendergast talks about pneumococcal disease and why it is important to vaccinate against the disease.
The PCV is a conjugate vaccine. This means that sugars (polysaccharides) from the surface of the bacteria are joined to a protein (in this case, a non-toxic protein from diphtheria). This is done because the sugars alone do not produce a good immune response in infants and children.
It contains a very small amount of aluminium which strengthens and lengthens the immune response to the vaccine. See more information on aluminium in vaccines.
The vaccine also contains very small amounts of:
The PCV used in the UK does not contain the preservative thiomersal (mercury).
The following reactions are common but not serious:
Many of these symptoms can be relieved by giving paracetamol (Calpol) if your child is over 2 months, or ibuprofen if your child is over 3 months and weighs more than 5kg (see NHS Choices for more advice on giving painkillers to babies and children).
More serious side effects are very rare:
You should consult your doctor if these reactions happen after vaccination. This is mainly to check that it is the vaccine causing the symptoms, and not some unrelated disease.
As with any vaccine, medicine or food, there is a very small chance of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Anaphylaxis is different from less severe allergic reactions because it causes life-threatening breathing and/or circulation problems. It is always serious but can be treated with adrenaline. In the UK between 1997 and 2003 there were a total of 130 reports of anaphylaxis following ALL immunisations, but all of these people survived. Around 117 million doses of vaccines were given in the UK during this period, making the overall rate around 1 in 900,000. Depending on the cause of the reaction, and following expert guidance, the person may be able to have vaccinations in the future.
Reactions listed under ‘possible side effects’ or ‘adverse events’ on vaccine product information sheets may not all be directly linked to the vaccine. See Vaccine side effects and adverse reactions for more information on why this is the case.
See more information on the monitoring of vaccine safety.
The original version of the PCV (Prevenar) was introduced in 2006 with a vaccine protecting against seven of the types of bacteria. This resulted in a big reduction in the number of cases of pneumococcal disease in babies caused by these seven types (see graph below). However, there was an increase in the number of cases caused by other types of the bacteria. Six strains in particular were identified as causing most of the new cases of pneumococcal disease. In 2010, the PCV vaccine was changed to one that protected against 13 types of bacteria (Prevenar13). The additional six types of pneumococcal bacteria are now also starting to disappear from the UK because of the vaccination programme. The vaccine has a herd immunity effect; vaccination of babies has reduced the amount of disease in the whole population, because infants and children are no longer carrying the pneumococcal bacteria and spreading them around. It is possible that other strains of pneumococcal bacteria may become more common in future and start to replace the strains that are disappearing. If this happened, a new vaccine covering more of the strains would need to be developed.
Impact of Prevenar7: number of cases of invasive pneumococcal disease caused by types protected against by Prevenar7 in under 2s in the UK from 2003 to 2009
Source: Public Health England
Sam Willis had pneumococcal meningitis when he was 9 months old, before the vaccine was available. In this film, made when Sam was 11 years old, his father talks about the lasting effects of the disease and the impact on the whole family.