Shortage of the pneumococcal vaccine for people over 65 in the UK

08 Feb 2018
Shortage of the pneumococcal vaccine for people over 65 in the UK

Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) is concerned about a shortage of the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV23) which is offered free on the NHS to people at increased risk of disease.

Pneumococcal infection is the second most common cause of bacterial meningitis and septicaemia in the UK and Ireland.

Two different vaccines are used in the UK to help prevent pneumococcal infection:

  • The pneumococcal ‘polysaccharide’ vaccine (PPV23) helps prevent meningitis caused by 23 strains of pneumococcal bacteria. It is offered to groups considered to be at increased risk: people over the age of 65 and anyone over the age of two with a health condition which puts them at increased risk of pneumococcal infection*.
  • The pneumococcal ‘conjugate’ vaccine (PCV13) is offered as part of the routine immunisation schedule for babies and helps protect against 13 of the most common strains of pneumococcal bacteria. There is no shortage of the PCV13 vaccine and the child vaccine programme is not affected by the shortage of PPV23.

MRF is concerned that if those at higher risk of disease cannot get access to the polysaccharide vaccine (PPV23), this could lead to an increase in cases. MRF has contacted NHS England for more information about the disruption to the vaccine programme and will update this page with more information as and when it becomes available.

Public Health England issued a letter in October 2017 providing advice for GP practices about how to prioritise vaccine delivery for those who are most at risk as well as other preventative measures to minimise any impact on public health. 

* Health conditions which increase the risk of infection include:

  • having no spleen, due to injury or disease, or a spleen that does not work properly as in sickle cell disorder, and coeliac disease;
  • other immunodeficiency, whether inherited or acquired (e.g. HIV);
  • immunosuppression as with cancer therapy or organ transplant;
  • chronic disease of the heart, kidney or liver;
  • chronic respiratory diseases, including, for example, asthma requiring repeated use of systemic steroids, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease;
  • diabetes requiring insulin
  • people with or about to have cochlear implantation or other conditions where leakage of cerebrospinal fluid can occur (but vaccination must not delay cochlear implantation).
If you have any questions or concerns about pneumococcal vaccination for the over-65s in the UK call our helpline on 080 8800 3344.

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