Streptococcus pneumoniae causes invasive disease world-wide and in all age groups. The reported incidence varies geographically and is increased in certain population groups. The incidence is highest in children less than 2 years and is also increased in the elderly. Mortality remains substantial even in the developed world despite appropriate antimicrobial therapy. The emergence of penicillin-resistant pneumococci highlights the importance of immunisation as a means to prevent disease. This review discusses the burden of invasive pneumococcal disease, identifies high-risk patients and analyses evidence for vaccine efficacy and cost-effectiveness.