Pneumococcal disease is a serious type of bacterial illness. If it enters your lungs or blood stream, it can be life-threatening (especially if you are old or medically vulnerable). However, a pneumococcal vaccine (also called the pneumonia vaccine) can help to protect you. The vaccine is free of charge for certain groups of people who are at higher risk from the illness.
What is pneumococcal disease?
Pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria called ‘streptococcus pneumoniae’.
It can sometimes lead to life-threatening illnesses, including:
- Septicaemia (sepsis)
It can also cause less serious illness, such as localised infections.
If you are infected by the bacteria, you can spread pneumococcal disease to other people by sneezing or coughing. You can also spread it by being in close contact with other people.
You can get pneumococcal disease at any age. However, elderly people, young children, and people with long-term medical conditions are most at risk.
The pneumococcal vaccine can help to protect you against pneumococcal disease. When you get the pneumococcal vaccine, your immune system will start to produce antibodies. Then, if you come into contact with the bacteria, these antibodies will fight it and stop you from getting sick.
You cannot get pneumococcal disease from the vaccine.
There are 2 types of pneumococcal vaccine available in Ireland.
The first type is called ‘Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine’ (PCV), which is given to all babies. Learn more about the childhood immunisation programme.
The second type of vaccine is called ‘Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine’ (PPV23). You should get the PPV23 vaccine if you are:
- Over 65 years of age, or
- Over 2 years of age and have a long-term health condition
Who should get the vaccine?
You are strongly advised to get the pneumococcal vaccine if you are:
- Over 65 years
Or, if you are have:
- Coeliac disease
- Down Syndrome
- Chronic lung, heart, liver or kidney disease
- A chronic neurological disease
- Low immunity (because of an illness or ongoing treatment)
- A missing or non-functioning spleen
- Cochlear implants (or about to get cochlear implants)
- A history of invasive pneumococcal disease (for children aged 2–5)
- Cerebrospinal fluid leaks
- An intracranial shunt
How to get the pneumococcal vaccine
If you are in an at-risk group (listed above), you should talk to your GP about getting the pneumococcal vaccine. If you do not have a GP, you can find a GP in your area.
You may also get the vaccine from your practice nurse or pharmacist (subject to availability).
If you are not in an at-risk group, you are not recommended to get the pneumococcal vaccine.
If you are over 65, or if you are in an at-risk group, the pneumococcal vaccine is free. However, you may have to pay your GP or practice nurse a consultation fee.