Pneumonia Vaccine: Frequently Asked Questions

‘Tis the season for cold weather, holiday gatherings, and illness (or so it seems). While some illnesses are seen more frequently in winter months, pneumonia can occur anytime of the year.

lungs-2803208_1280Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. It can be severe, and even fatal for some patients.

Did you know that pneumonia can often be prevented? University of Minnesota Physicians Broadway Family Medicine Clinic resident physician Megan Keuler, MD, MPH, answers some frequently asked questions about the pneumonia vaccine.

What is the pneumonia vaccine?

The pneumonia vaccine is a series of vaccinations that protects against some types of bacterial pneumonia. The vaccine can also protect against meningitis, bloodstream infections, sinus infections, and ear infections.

There is more than one type of pneumonia vaccine. The two most commonly used are:

  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or Prevnar)
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23 or Pneumovax)

Should I get the pneumonia vaccine?

Individuals who should receive the pneumonia vaccine are identified by different risk factors, a few of which are listed below.

Children younger than 2: The PCV13 is recommended in a multi-dose series as part of the regular immunization schedule for children younger than two years old.

Adults older than 65: The PCV13 is recommended for ALL adults, age 65 or older, who have never received the PCV13 before. The PPSV23 is recommended one year after the PCV13.

Adults who smoke cigarettes: Any adult, age 19-64, who smokes cigarettes should receive a one-time dose of the PPSV23. (If you are a smoker, talk with your healthcare provider about resources available to help you quit smoking.)

Individuals with chronic disease: Talk to your doctor if you have lung, heart, liver, or kidney disease OR any other condition that increases your risk of infection (e.g. HIV, cancer). Many people with chronic conditions will qualify to receive both the PCV13 and PPSV23.

If you don’t fall into one of the categories noted above or are unsure if you need to be vaccinated, talk with your healthcare provider.

How well do the pneumonia vaccines work?

PCV13: Since the introduction of PCV13, the rate of severe diseasefrom the organisms the vaccine protects againsthas decreased by 99%. One single dose of the PCV13 will protect 8 out of 10 infants from invasive (severe) disease.

PPSV23: A single dose of PPSV23 protects 50 to 85 out of 100 healthy adults against invasive (severe) disease.

Remember, no vaccine is 100% effective. The pneumonia vaccine does not protect against all causes of pneumonia, but does protect against the types of pneumonia that cause the most infections and cause the most severe infections.

What are possible side effects of the pneumonia vaccine? Can I catch pneumonia from the vaccine?

The most common side effects, as with any vaccine, are pain and swelling at the injection site. Other side effects include fevers and muscle aches. These side effects are actually good signs. They mean that your body is launching an immune reaction against the vaccine, like it is supposed to. This is what makes vaccines protective.

While you may feel ill after receiving the vaccine, it DOES NOT cause pneumonia. The vaccines are made with inactivated pieces of bacteria and cannot cause an acute infection.

Who should NOT get the pneumonia vaccine?

Do not get the pneumonia vaccine if you have had a severe reaction to the pneumonia vaccine in the past.

Do not get the pneumonia vaccine if you have a fever and are feeling moderately to severely ill. Wait until you feel better to get the vaccine.

Do not get the pneumonia vaccine if you are pregnant. Wait until after delivery to get the vaccine. If you qualify for the vaccine based on a medical condition, try to get the vaccine before becoming pregnant, if possible.

Where can I get more information?

Check out these websites for more information about the pneumonia vaccine:

Remember that anytime you search for medical information online, make sure it comes from a reputable source.

Talk with your doctor about any questions you may have, and ask about the pneumonia vaccine at your next appointment.

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