Do I Need a Pneumonia Vaccine?

Published: March 28, 2023
Melody Berg
By Melody Berg, PharmD, MPH, BCPS

The pneumonia vaccine is a vaccine that prevents infections caused be a bacteria species called Streptococcus pneumoniae that causes a variety of infections, including pneumonia.

What types of infections can be prevented with the pneumococcal vaccine?
Streptococcus pneumonia is a type of bacteria that can cause serious infectious diseases (called pneumococcal diseases) including pneumonia (infection of the lungs), meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord), middle ear infection, and sinus infections. It can also get in the bloodstream and cause a serious illness called sepsis.

Are these serious diseases?
Pneumococcal diseases can be deadly. One in 20 people with get pneumococcal pneumonia die, pneumococcal meningitis kills 1 in 12 kids and 1 in 6 adults, and pneumococcal blood infections can kill 1 in 30 children and 1 in 8 adults.

Although middle ear and sinus infections are not nearly as deadly, they can be unpleasant and cause loss of school and work time and can rarely lead to serious complications such as hearing loss or infections of bone and surrounding deep tissues.

What types of pneumococcal vaccines are there?
There are two types of pneumococcal vaccine: the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine which covers 13, 15 and 20 different strains of Streptococcus pneumonia (PCV13 or Prevnar 13, PCV15 or Prevnar15, and PCV20 or Prevnar 20) and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine which covers 23 different strains of Streptococcus pneumonia (PPSV23 or Pneumovax).

These vaccines provide different types of immune responses to the bacteria and it has been shown to provide the strongest immune response when patients receive some combination of the two types.

Who needs to get the vaccine?
Almost everyone! Pneumococcal disease affects people of all ages.

What type should I get?
Historically, the PPSV23 vaccine was recommended for older adults (over 65 years of age) and younger adults with risk factors for more severe disease while the Prevnar series of vaccines were recommended in children. However, the availability of newer and better Prevnar vaccines has brought changes to the recommendations. Currently the Centers for Disease Control recommends the following:

  • PCV13 or PCV15 for all children younger than 5 years of age or children between the ages of 5 to 18 who have not received either of these previously and have medical conditions that put them at high risk of pneumococcal disease
  • PCV15 or PCV20 for all adults 65 years of age or older and any adult between 19 and 64 years of age with certain medication conditions or risk factors
  • PPSV23 for children 2 through 18 years of age with certain medical conditions or adults 9 years of age or older who get PCV15 based on criteria above.

Does the vaccine work?
Yes. Pneumococcal vaccines have been shown to be very effective at reducing the risk of getting diseases caused by Streptococcus pneumonia. However, its important to remember that pneumonia, meningitis, and sinus and middle ear infections can also be caused by other pathogens including viruses and other bacteria that won’t be prevented by these vaccines.

It is important to consider receiving the pneumococcal vaccine to prevent serious illnesses that may be caused by Streptococcus pneumonia that isn’t just pneumonia! There are several different types of vaccines and which you one you will be recommended to receive depends on your age, previous vaccine status and other risk factors. Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to advise you on which one is best for you!

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