Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals

Pneumococcal disease

Streptococcus pneumoniae is a bacterium that is the cause of a number of common diseases, ranging from serious diseases such as meningitis, septicaemia and pneumonia to milder but commoner infections such as sinusitis and otitis media. Pneumococcal diseases are a common cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, though rates of disease and death are higher in developing countries than in industrialized country settings, with the majority of deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Disease is most common at the extremes of age, i.e, in young children and among the elderly. The organism is transmitted mainly through respiratory droplets and colonizes the back of the nose (nasopharynx). Infection of other parts of the body, resulting in disease, occur through direct spread or through invasion of the blood stream.

Out of over 90 serotypes, only a small minority cause most disease. There are 2 available pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV) that target either 10 or 13 of the most prevalent serotypes.

Currently available PCVs are safe and efficacious. WHO recommends the inclusion of PCVs in childhood immunization programmes worldwide. In particular, countries with high childhood mortality (i.e. under 5 mortality rate of >50 deaths/1000 births) should make the introduction of these multicomponent PCVs a high priority.

In many countries, the routine use of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines has dramatically reduced the incidence of serious diseases due to the organism with virtual disappearance of disease due to serotypes of the organism in the vaccines used.

WHO position papers

Prequalified vaccines

Further information


Links to other WHO pneumococcal related materials

Last updated: 29 September 2014