Pneumococcal disease is caused by a bacterium called Streptococcus pneumoniae (also known as pneumococcus). This germ exists in several varieties (strains or ‘serotypes’) and causes serious infections, including pneumonia, ear infections and meningitis (infection of the membrane surrounding the brain). Pneumococcal disease is believed to result in more than 1.5 million deaths worldwide each year, especially affecting young children in developing countries. There is a very high incidence of pneumococcal disease among indigenous Australians.
Two types of pneumococcal vaccine are available in Australia.
The 23-valent pneumococcal vaccine (e.g. Pneumovax 23) protects against 23 strains of the bacterium and is indicated for use in adults over 65 years, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders over 50 years, and older children, among other groups. Some people will need to be re-vaccinated after 5 years — ask your doctor whether you need this booster dose. Some people considered to be at higher than normal risk of getting pneumococcal disease — for example, those over 65 or Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders over 50 — may be eligible to receive the vaccine under the government's immunisation programme. Ask your doctor.
Side effects of Pneumovax 23 include reaction at the injection site and fever.
A newer vaccine, available since July 2011, Prevenar 13, protects against 13 serotypes of pneumococcus, particularly those strains that cause the majority of serious disease in young children. This vaccine is indicated for use in babies and children from 6 weeks of age up to 5 years of age and also adults 50 and over. A course of 3 injections is usually given at 2, 4 and 6 months of age. These injections are funded by the government as part of the National Immunisation Program. After this, no further doses are usually required. This schedule may vary if the timing of the first vaccination is delayed. Your doctor will be able to advise you of your baby's requirements on an individual basis. If your child is considered to be at higher than normal risk of pneumococcal disease, your doctor will advise you of your child's future vaccination needs following the initial vaccine course.
Side effects of Prevenar 13 include fever and reaction at the injection site.
Last Reviewed: 19 December 2012