Pneumococcal vaccine

Sounds like 'new-mo-cock-al' vaccine

Easy-to-read medicine information about pneumococcal vaccine– what it is, when is it given and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Vaccines
  • Pneumovax 23®
  • Prevenar®
  • Synflorix®

What is pneumococcal vaccine?

Pneumococcal vaccine is used to prevent infections that are caused by the bug (bacteria) called Pneumococcus. These infections can range from sinusitis and ear infections to life-threatening infections like pneumonia or meningitis. Find out more about pneumococcal disease.

Pneumococcal vaccine works by making your immune system produce special cells called antibodies that will attack and kill the Pneumococcus bacteria when it enters your body. This means that if you get infected, these protective antibodies are already in your bloodstream to quickly fight off the germs. You cannot get pneumococcal disease from the vaccine, as it does not contain live, active bacteria.

How effective is pneumococcal vaccine?

Vaccination is the best method for preventing infection and reducing the seriousness of illness if you become infected. The rate of pneumococcal disease in children under the age of 2 years has halved since immunisation was introduced. Studies show that 97% of children are protected after 4 doses of the vaccine.

When is pneumococcal vaccine given?

In New Zealand there are 3 different brands of pneumococcal vaccine – Pneumovax 23®, Prevenar ® and Synflorix®.

Pneumococcal vaccine is free as part of the National Immunisation Schedule in New Zealand for babies at 6 weeks, 3 months, 5 months and 15 months of age. They’re not fully protected until they’ve had all 4 doses. If your child misses these dates, they can have catch-up pneumococcal vaccines. Talk to your doctor or nurse about this.

Some children, teenagers and adults with weakened immune systems who are at risk of pneumococcal infection may be eligible for re-vaccination. Check with your doctor or nurse about their eligibility.

How is pneumococcal vaccine given?

  • Pneumococcal vaccine is given by injection into a muscle such as the muscle on your mid thigh.
  • If you have a condition that makes you bleed more easily than normal, it may be given as an injection underneath your skin.
  • It's safe to get the pneumococcal vaccine at the same time as the seasonal influenza vaccine, but at a different injection site.

Possible side effects

Like all medicines, the pneumococcal vaccine can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. 

Side effects What should I do?
  • Pain, swelling, or redness around the injection site
  • This is quite common after having the vaccination.
  • It usually starts a few hours after getting the injection and settles within a few days.
  • Place a cold, wet cloth, or ice pack where the injection was given. Leave it on for a short time.
  • Do not rub the injection site
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome.
  • Read more:
    After your child is immunised (babies and children)
    After your immunisation (teenagers and adults)
  • Mild fever
Babies and children
  • If your child is hot, it can help to undress them down to a single layer, for example, a singlet and nappies or pants. Make sure the room is not too hot or too cold.
  • Give paracetamol or ibuprofen only as advised by your doctor or nurse. Paracetamol may reduce the effectiveness of childhood vaccinations.
  • Read more: After your child is immunised 
Teenagers and adults
  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids
  • Because paracetamol or ibuprofen can interfere with your immune response to a vaccine, only take them for relief of significant discomfort or high fever.
  • Read more: After your immunisation 
  • Feeling unwell, tired or weak
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle ache
  • Headache
  • These are quite common for the first 1 or 2 days after receiving the injection.
  • It usually settles within a few days.
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome.
  • Read more After your immunisation
  • Signs of an allergic reaction such as skin rash, itching, blisters, peeling skin, swelling of the face, lips, mouth or have problems breathing
  • Allergic reactions to pneumococcal vaccine are rare.
  • If you develop these signs within a few days of the immunisation, tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 0800 611 116.

Where can I get vaccinated?

The best place to go for vaccinations is your family medical clinic. They have your medical records and can check to see if you’ve already had a particular vaccination. Either your doctor or a nurse can give the vaccination.

If you don’t have a family doctor, you can go to one of the after-hour medical clinics. Ring them first to make sure they can help you with the vaccination you need.

You can find a clinic near you on the Healthpoint website. Put in your address and region, and under Select a service, click on GPs/Accident & Urgent Medical Care.

Vaccines on the National Immunisation Schedule are free. Other vaccines are funded only for people at particular risk of disease. You can choose to pay for vaccines that you are not eligible to receive for free.

Learn more

The following links have more information on pneumococcal vaccine. Be aware that websites from other countries may contain information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.

Medsafe Consumer Information Sheets (NZ)
Pneumovax 23

Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
More ways to help protect your family
Quick answers to frequent pneumococcal vaccine questions

Patient Info, UK
Pneumococcal vaccine


  1. Pneumococcal disease Immunisation Handbook 2017, New Zealand
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 02 Apr 2019