Pneumococcal disease

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by bacteria. There are 90 different types of pneumococcal bacteria.


The bacteria is carried in the throat, often without causing disease. It’s spread through the air by coughing and sneezing.

The pneumococcal bacteria causes severe disease such as:

  • meningitis, an infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord
  • septicaemia or blood poisoning
  • infections of the joints, around the heart or of the bones and the soft tissue beneath the skin.

The bacteria also causes pneumonia, ear and sinus infections. Pneumococcal disease may be a complication from a viral infection.

Children at higher risk

Children with some medical conditions are at higher risk of pneumococcal disease. This includes children with:

  • congenital heart disease
  • some chronic lung conditions
  • kidney diseases
  • HIV infection
  • a lowered immune system due to chemotherapy, radiation therapy or organ transplant.

Children with spinal fluid shunts and with cochlear implants are also at higher risk of pneumococcal disease.


Childhood Immunsation booklet.
Childhood Immunisation
Available from HealthEd.


Local pneumococcal infection can cause ear infections (otitis media) and sinusitis.

Early stages of serious pneumonia may appear like the flu, with aches, pains and fever, but can progress very quickly and usually result in hospitalisation.

Symptoms of serious pneumonia are:

  • fever and chills
  • chest pain
  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid or grunting breathing.


It’s important to protect babies from pneumococcal disease by getting them immunised on time. They’re not protected until they’ve had all 3 doses.

The pneumococcal vaccine is free for all children under 5. It protects against pneumococcal disease, which can cause a range of mild to life-threatening infections. The vaccine is given at 6 weeks, 5 months, and 12 months.

Which vaccine is used

The vaccine we use in New Zealand is Prevenar 13®. This covers the 10 most common types of pneumococcal bacteria that cause disease in babies and young children.

It’s given as an injection, normally into a muscle in the arm or leg.

Prevenar 13® (PDF, 126 KB)

For more information visit Immunise.

If you  have any questions or concerns, talk to your doctor or nurse, or call Healthline for free on 0800 611 116.

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