The PCV vaccine

A bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae causes pneumococcal disease. Infection can cause meningitis (swelling of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord), pneumonia (lung infection), sepsis or bacteraemia (bacteria in the bloodstream) and ear infections. It most commonly affects babies and teenagers, and will kill 1 in 10 of those infected.

The pneumococcal polysaccharide conjugate vaccine (PCV) used to vaccinate babies in Ireland against pneumococcal disease is called Prevenar 13, and it protects children against 13 types of the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. Prevenar 13 (produced by Pfizer) is a conjugate vaccine. In the Irish childhood vaccination schedule, babies will be given the PCV vaccine at 2 months, 6 months and 13 months old.

A vaccine against the bacteria causing pneumococcal disease was first introduced into Ireland for at-risk children in 2002; later, the PCV7 vaccine (protecting children against 7 types of the bacteria) was introduced into the Irish childhood vaccination schedule in 2008, and the current PCV13 was introduced in 2010.

Since PCV7 was introduced 13 years ago, the rates of invasive pneumococcal disease (this means that bacteria can be found in normally sterile sites such as the spinal cord, brain or bloodstream) in children has decreased by 91%, and the rates are thought to have decreased further since PCV13 was made available. This is important, because the bacteria that cause pneumococcal disease have become resistant to many types of antibiotics, so prevention by vaccination is vital.

Most common side effects are mild and temporary. They are a result of the child's immune system responding to the vaccination, and making antibodies that will protect the child in the future. Most side effects will ease after a day or two and any discomfort can be treated with over-the-counter medicines such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (ask your pharmacist for medicine appropriate for your child's age).

Before getting the vaccination, speak to your doctor if your child has been sick or 'off form' over the past few days. Illness can reduce the effectiveness of a vaccine. The nurse or doctor administering the vaccine will check your child's temperature first, to see if they may have any other infections or illnesses.

Common side effects (in children up to 5 years old) of Prevenar 13 that are usually no cause for concern: reduced appetite, soreness, redness, hardness or swelling at the injection site, a slight temperature, vomiting, diarrhoea, mild rash and irritability.

Other rarer side effects (in children up to 5 years old) of Prevenar 13 include redness, swelling or hardness at the injection site of more than 7cm, excessive crying, seizures (sometimes caused by a high temperature) and hives. These side effects are rare and have been reported in very few children.

Remember that the benefits of receiving vaccines that protect your child from serious diseases hugely outweigh any mild side effects from vaccination.

If you are concerned about your child, contact your doctor or local hospital for advice.

Allergies to substances within vaccines can occur, though they are very rare (they happen in fewer than 1 in 10,000 people receiving the vaccine). An allergic reaction to a vaccine would happen quickly - probably before you left the GP's surgery. Signs of an allergic reaction may include itchy skin, rash, shortness of breath and swelling of the face or tongue.

Before getting the vaccination, speak to your doctor if your child has experienced any allergic reactions previously.

If you are concerned about your child, contact your doctor or local hospital for advice.

Vaccines are tested exhaustively before they are provided to the public (it normally takes 10-15 years to develop a new vaccine). Prevenar 13 (PCV vaccine produced by Pfizer) has been included in the Irish vaccination schedule since 2010, and its effectiveness was first demonstrated in a study of more than 1,200 healthy babies who received the vaccine. Prevenar 13 is also part of the routine childhood vaccination schedules in several countries, including the UK, USA and New Zealand.

Information on PCV vaccination from the HSE (Ireland):

Information on PCV vaccination from the NHS (UK):

Information on PCV vaccination from the CDC (USA):

Recommendation of PCV vaccination by the World Health Organisation:

Prevenar 13 vaccine Patient Information Leaflet:

Prevenar 13 vaccine Summary of Product Characteristics: