Generic NameBrand Name
pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV)Prevnar, Prevnar 13, Synflorix
pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV)Pneumovax, Pneumo 23

How It Works

Pneumococcal vaccines are given to protect people from becoming infected with the pneumococcus bacteria. The vaccines contain small amounts of weakened bacteria and are given as a shot (injection). This helps your body make chemicals called antibodies that can then recognize and destroy pneumococcus bacteria if you are exposed to it later.

Why It Is Used

Pneumococcus is a type of bacteria that can cause severe infections, such as pneumonia, meningitis, and blood infections (sepsis). These infections can be serious and can even cause death, especially in people who have impaired immune systems, older adults, and children younger than 2 years of age.

Doctors use two types of pneumococcal vaccines for routine immunization: pneumococcal conjugate (PCV) or pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPV). The type of vaccine used depends on a person's age.

  • Pneumococcal conjugate (PCV) for babies
    • PCV is recommended for routine use in babies and children younger than 2 years of age and for children ages 2 to 5 in certain situations.
    • Babies and toddlers should receive PCV at 2, 4, 6, and 12 to 15 months for a total of 4 shots. Depending on what is recommended in your province, 3 doses of the vaccine may be given.
    • This medicine is not recommended for anyone 5 years of age or older. If your child has not yet had his or her shots, talk with your doctor.
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPV) for people at high risk
    • PPV is generally recommended for all people 65 and older and for those ages 2 to 64 who have a chronic disease or illness, an impaired immune system, or who live in areas or among social groups where there is an increased risk for pneumonia or meningitis.
    • Usually, you only need one dose of PPV. Sometimes doctors recommend a second dose for some people, especially if they have a chronic disease. Talk with your doctor about whether you need a second dose.

You can keep track of when your child received vaccines using the National Childhood Immunization Record (What is a PDF document?).

How Well It Works

PCV has about a 97% effectiveness rate in preventing pneumococcal disease in healthy children who received all four vaccine doses and a 94% rate for healthy children who received two doses.

Some research shows that PPV helps prevent pneumonia in younger healthy people but not in older people or those with impaired immune systems.footnote 1 Other studies show that the vaccine does not reduce the risk of pneumonia in adults, but it can prevent some of the serious complications of pneumonia.footnote 2

Side Effects

Both PCV and PPV are safe medicines. Side effects are usually mild and may include:

  • Redness, warmth, or swelling where the shot was given
  • Fussiness, grouchiness.
  • Sleepiness.
  • Little interest in eating.
  • Slight fever.

Even though serious allergic reactions are rare with these medicines, call your doctor or local health unit right away if you or your child has trouble breathing, a high fever, or anything unusual after having the shot.

A child who has had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of PCV should not get another dose of this vaccine. Tell your doctor or nurse if your child has had a severe reaction to any vaccine or has severe allergies.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Medicines, such as penicillin, used to work well for the treatment of pneumonia and meningitis. These diseases have recently become resistant to these medicines. For this reason it is important to try to prevent the infections by having the PCV or PPV vaccine.

PCV can prevent some ear infections. But ear infections have many causes and PCV only works to prevent some of them. Your child may still have ear infections, even after getting a PCV shot.

PPV has not been studied in pregnant women. There is no evidence that the vaccine is harmful to either the mother or the baby. Pregnant women should talk with a doctor about getting the medicine. Women who are at high risk of pneumococcal disease should have the shot before becoming pregnant, if possible.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. Loeb M (2004). Community-acquired pneumonia. Clinical Evidence (11): 1933–1946.
  2. Dear K, et al. (2005). Vaccines for preventing pneumococcal infection in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1). Oxford: Update Software.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer William Atkinson, MD, MPH -
Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics

Current as ofNovember 17, 2015