This vaccine gives protection against 23 different types of pneumococcus bacteria that all cause pneumococcal disease. These 23 types cause about 9 out of every 10 infections caused by pneumococcus bacteria.
The vaccine is inactivated, which means that it does not contain any live pneumococcal bacteria. It cannot cause pneumococcal disease.
In the UK, PPV is given to adults aged 65 and over. 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:
People who are exposed to metal fumes (for example, welders) are at higher risk of pneumococcal disease and may also be offered PPV.
People over 65 are given a single pneumococcal vaccination which gives long-term protection. Those with a long-term health condition are offered just a single pneumococcal vaccination, or vaccination every five years, depending on their underlying health problem.
PPV prevents some types of serious pneumococcal disease, but it does not prevent all forms of pneumococcal disease, with little activity against pneumonia, otitis media (ear infection) or sinusitis. PPV is not recommended for children under 2 because it does not work well in this age group. There is a similar vaccine for babies and children (the PCV - Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine).
The PPV is a polysaccharide vaccine. Small amounts of polysaccharides (sugars) from the surface of 23 different pneumococcus bacteria are used to produce an immune response. The vaccine does not contain any live organisms.
The vaccine also contains very small amounts of the following ingredients:
The PPV used in the UK does not contain the preservative thiomersal (mercury).
The following minor reactions are common (they may affect more than 1 in 10 people): redness, tenderness and/or swelling at the injection site, and a slightly raised temperature.
More severe side effects are infrequent, but can include: swelling in the injected limb; feeling tired, weak, sick or generally unwell; high temperatures and shivering, sometimes leading to convulsions. You should talk to your doctor if you have any side effects.
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 Summary of Product Characteristics for Zostavax, the shingles vaccine used in the UK, states that the vaccine should not be given at the same time as the Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine. This is because a clinical trial by the manufacturer had suggested this might make Zostavax less effective. However, the Department of Health advice is that the two vaccines can be given at the same time. This is based on expert advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation , and on research that showed no evidence that people receiving both vaccines together had any increased risk of developing shingles. Read the abstract of the 2011 study by Tseng et al .