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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

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What are pneumococcal infections?

Pneumococcal (new-mo-kok-al) infections are caused by the bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Pneumococcal bacteria are spread in the same way as colds and flu. Pneumococcal bacteria can enter your body through your nose and mouth by:

Breathing in droplets from an infected person’s sneeze or cough.

Touching a contaminated object, like a door handle, and then touching your nose and mouth.

Some strains of pneumococcal bacteria live in people’s nose and throat without causing any symptoms or problems. Other strains can cause infections which fall under one of two groups:

Infections that don’t involve major organs and blood – called non-invasive pneumococcal infections.

These include:

Infections that involve major organs or the blood – called invasive pneumococcal infections.

These include:

Invasive pneumococcal infections tend to be more serious than non-invasive pneumococcal infections.

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Who is at risk?

Anyone can get a pneumococcal infection, but some people have a higher risk of a pneumococcal infection turning into something more serious. Serious infections could mean you need to go to hospital, or you might have lasting effects afterwards.

It’s recommended that people who are at risk are given the pneumococcal vaccine on the NHS.

These include:

  • Babies

  • Adults ags 65 and over

  • Adults and children with
    certain long-term health
    conditions, including:

    • Asplenia or dysfunction of the spleen

    • Cerebrospinal fluid leaks

    • Chronic heart disease

    • Chronic kidney disease

    • Chronic liver disease

    • Chronic respiratory disease,
      like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

    • Diabetes managed by medication (not by diet)

    • Having cochlear implants

    • Immunosuppression (having a weakened immune system)

    • Occupational exposure to metal fumes e.g., welders (taking into account exposure control measures in place)

Speak to your doctor or practice nurse to find out if you’re eligible for pneumococcal vaccination as part of the pneumococcal immunisation programme.

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Who should consider having pneumococcal vaccination?

If you are aged 65 or over, there is a chance that a common pneumococcal infection may turn into something more serious. You are eligible for pneumococcal vaccination on the NHS – speak to your doctor or practice nurse to find out more.

If you have a health condition, like COPD or diabetes, there is a chance that a common pneumococcal infection may turn into something more serious, for example: pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs) or septicaemia (blood poisoning). You are eligible for pneumococcal vaccination on the NHS – speak to your doctor or practice nurse to find out more.

Anyone can get a pneumococcal infection, but most people are able to fight off the infection naturally without too many problems. Vaccination is usually not required and is not available on the NHS unless you are in an at-risk group.

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How do you get a pneumococcal infection?

Anyone can get a pneumococcal infection, but most people are able to fight off the infection naturally without too many problems. Pneumococcal bacteria are spread in the same way as colds and flu. Pneumococcal bacteria can enter your body through your nose and mouth by:

You might breathe in droplets from an infected person's sneeze or cough

Or, by touching an object, like a door handle, that has been touched by an infected person and then touching your nose and mouth

Your risk of getting a pneumococcal infection is higher in the winter, similar to seasonal flu, but you are at risk of pneumococcal infections all year round.

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Do you need the pneumococcal vaccine if you’ve had the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes, it is recommended that if you are in an at-risk group you get the pneumococcal vaccine even if you have already had the annual flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine.

Each vaccine is designed to help protect against certain types of viruses and bacteria:

  • The pneumococcal vaccine helps protect against strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. Different doses of the vaccine are needed depending on your level of risk

  • The flu vaccine helps protect against flu viruses, which change each year, and is why it is recommended you get vaccinated every year

  • The COVID-19 vaccine helps protect against the COVID-19 coronaviruses. Some groups may require a booster dose in addition to the initial dose(s)

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Why do COPD, diabetes and other health conditions increase the risk of serious pneumococcal infections?

Long-term health conditions, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and diabetes, can cause damage to your body’s organs and weaken your immune system. That means you may be more at risk of getting bacterial infections and have a higher chance of those infections becoming more serious.

You may also be taking medicines that increase the risk of complications. Or your usual medicines might mean an infection can’t be treated with other medicines in case they cause side effects.

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What is the pneumococcal immunisation programme?

The pneumococcal immunisation programme is provided by the NHS. It offers vaccinations for people aged 65 and over, and for at-risk groups, like those with certain long-term health conditions.

If you are in an at-risk group, getting vaccinated against strains of pneumococcal bacteria can help lower the risk of you developing serious pneumococcal infections, that may lead to time in hospital or further health issues.

If you are eligible, you can receive pneumococcal vaccination on the NHS at your local GP surgery – your doctor or a practice nurse will determine if you are eligible.

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What are the symptoms of a pneumococcal infection?

Because there are different types of pneumococcal infections, symptoms vary depending on the type you have.

Some symptoms which are common include:

  • A high temperature (fever) of
    38°C (100.4°F) or above

  • Chills

  • Sweats

  • Aches and pains

  • Headache

  • A general sense of feeling unwell

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Is there a treatment for pneumococcal infections?

Treatments for invasive pneumococcal infections (infections that involve major organs or the blood):

  • Some can be treated at home,
    but others might need to be
    treated in hospital

  • Treatment at home will usually be
    a course of antibiotics, with
    plenty of rest and fluids

  • Severe symptoms may need to be
    treated with antibiotics delivered
    through a drip, which will be
    done at the hospital

Treatments for non-invasive
pneumococcal
infections (infections that don’t involve major organs and blood):

  • Antibiotics are not usually
    needed, as non-invasive
    infections usually clear up on
    their own within a week

  • Getting plenty of rest, drinking
    plenty of fluids, and taking over-
    the-counter painkillers can help
    to relieve symptoms

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Are there any side effects of pneumococcal vaccination?

Like all vaccines and medicines, this vaccine is associated with certain side effects, although not everybody gets
them.

Reporting of side effects: If you get any side effects with any medicines, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse. This includes any possible side effects not listed in the medicines package leaflet. You can also report side effects directly via the Yellow Card Scheme at https://yellowcard.mhra.gov.uk/ or by searching for MHRA Yellow Card in the Google Play or Apple App Store. By reporting side effects you can help provide more information on the safety of medicines.

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How many doses of the pneumococcal vaccine do I need?

If you are aged 65 or over:

  • People aged 65 and over need a
    single pneumococcal vaccination
    (it is not annual like the flu jab)

If you have a long-term health conditions, like COPD or diabetes:

  • You may only need a single, one-off pneumococcal vaccination

  • Or, you may need a vaccination
    every 5 years, depending on what
    health condition you have

In young babies:

  • Born on or after 1 January 2020:
    two doses given at 12 weeks old
    and 1 year old

  • Babies born before 1 January
    2020: will continue to be offered 3
    doses, at 8 and 16 weeks and a
    booster at 1 year

Your doctor or nurse will be able to
provide more information on how often
you need vaccine.

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How does the pneumococcal vaccine work?

There are two types of pneumococcal vaccine available. Both types of pneumococcal vaccine encourage your body to make antibodies that can fight off pneumococcal bacteria before you’re infected.

If pneumococcal bacteria enters your body after you’ve been vaccinated, your body will have the right antibodies to destroy the bacteria and help protect you from illness.

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Reporting of side effects: If you get any side
effects with any medicines, talk to your doctor,
pharmacist or nurse. This
includes any possible
side effects not listed in the medicines
package leaflet. You can also report side
effects directly via the
Yellow Card Scheme at
https://yellowcard.mhra.gov.uk or by
searching for MHRA Yellow Card in the Google
Play or Apple
App Store. By reporting side
effects you can help provide more information
on the safety of medicines.
By clicking the above link you will leave the
MSD website and be taken to the MHRA website.

The website has been developed and fully funded and
maintained by the pharmaceutical company MSD.
MSD manufactures one of the pneumococcal
vaccines
recommended in the national immunisation
programme for certain people.

MSD

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September 2021