Pneumococcal vaccine (Pneumovax II)

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Pneumococcal vaccine helps to protect against infections such as pneumonia and meningitis.

The vaccine will be injected into a muscle or under the surface of your skin.

The most common side-effects are tenderness at the site of the injection, mild fever, feeling tired, and  head/muscle aches. These should soon pass.

About pneumococcal vaccine (Pneumovax II)

Type of medicine Pneumococcal vaccine
Used for Protection against pneumococcal infection in adults and children over 2 years of age
Also called Pneumovax II®
Available as Injection

Pneumococcus is a bacterium which can cause pneumonia, meningitis and some other infections. Pneumococcal infections can affect anybody, but older people and some other groups of people are at increased risk of developing them. Some pneumococcal infections are more serious than others.

There are two types of vaccine available to protect against pneumococcal infection. One is called pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), and is the vaccine used to routinely immunise babies. There is another separate medicine leaflet called Pneumococcal vaccine for babies - Prevenar 13 which provides more information about this first type of vaccine. The second type of vaccine is called pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) and it is this vaccine which is suitable for pneumococcal immunisation of adults and children over 2 years of age. This rest of this leaflet provides information about this type of pneumococcal vaccine (brand name Pneumovax II®).

Pneumococcal vaccine stimulates your body to make antibodies against pneumococcal bacteria. These antibodies then help protect you from illness should you become infected with pneumococcal bacteria. It provides protection against many (but not all) types of pneumococcal bacteria.

Before you are given pneumococcal vaccine, make sure your doctor knows:

  • If you have been unwell recently, or if you have a high temperature.
  • If you have previously had an allergic reaction to a vaccine or to any other medicine.
  • If you have a condition that makes you bleed more than is normal, such as haemophilia.
  • If you have a weakened immune system. This may be a result of an illness or taking medicines.
  • If you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
  • If you are taking any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, such as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • Before you are given the vaccine, ask to read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet. The manufacturer's leaflet will give you more information about Pneumovax II® and will tell you about any side-effects which you may experience from having it. If you have any questions about the vaccine, ask your doctor or nurse for advice.
  • You will be given one dose of the vaccine. It may be given at the same time as some other vaccines (such as influenza vaccine), but it will be given as a separate injection.
  • The vaccine is given by injection into a muscle, or as an injection underneath your skin.
  • If you have a high temperature or if you are acutely unwell at the time of your scheduled immunisation, your doctor or nurse may recommend delaying giving the vaccine. A minor illness (such as a cough, cold or snuffles) will not interfere with the vaccine. If a delay is advised, you will be given an alternative appointment for the vaccination to be given.
  • If you have been prescribed antibiotic tablets/capsules to help prevent pneumococcal infections, you should continue to take these as your doctor has prescribed. Do not stop taking your antibiotics because you have been vaccinated.
  • If you are particularly at risk of infection (for example, if you have had your spleen removed, or if you are taking medicines that lower your immune response) you may need urgent antibiotic treatment if you suddenly feel unwell with a fever. Make an appointment to see your doctor straightaway if this happens.

Along with their useful effects, vaccines like most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects, although not everyone experiences them. Pneumococcal immunisation often causes no problems, but the table below contains some of the side-effects which may occur. You will find a full list in the manufacturer's information leaflet supplied with the vaccine. Speak with a doctor or nurse if any of the following side-effects continue or become troublesome.

Common pneumococcal vaccine side-effectsWhat can I do if I experience this?
A mild fever; soreness, swelling, or redness around the site of the injectionThis should soon pass
Muscle ache, headacheIf troublesome, ask your pharmacist to recommend a suitable painkiller
Feeling tiredThis should soon pass

You will normally be asked by the doctor or nurse to wait several minutes after the immunisation to make sure that you do not react badly to the vaccine. Although allergic reactions are extremely rare, you should seek urgent medical advice if you become breathless, or if any swelling or a rash develops within a few days of the immunisation.

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to the vaccine, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.

If you are having an operation or any dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are taking.

If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are suitable to take with your other medicines.

Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.

If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

  • Manufacturer's PIL, Pneumovax II®; Sanofi Pasteur MSD Limited, The electronic Medicines Compendium. Dated December 2012.
  • British National Formulary; 66th Edition (September 2013) British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Adrian Bonsall
Document ID:
28761 (v1)
Last Checked:
Next Review:
The Information Standard - certified member

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