Do I Need a Pneumonia Vaccine?

Although the pneumonia vaccine can’t prevent all cases, it can lower your chances of catching the disease. And if you’ve had the shot and you do get pneumonia anyway, you will probably have a much milder case.

Older adults and some people with health problems are more likely to get pneumonia, a lung infection that makes it harder to breathe. It’s more common among people whose immune systems are weak.

Who Should Get the Vaccine?

People over age 65. As you age, your immune system doesn’t work as well as it once did. You’re more likely to have trouble fighting off a pneumonia infection. All adults over age 65 should get the vaccine.

Those with weakened immune systems. Many diseases can cause your immune system to weaken, so it’s less able to fight off bugs like pneumonia.

If you have heart disease, diabetes, emphysema, asthma, or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), you’re more likely to have a weakened immune system, which makes you more likely to get pneumonia.

The same goes for people who receive chemotherapy, people who have had organ transplants, and people with HIV or AIDS.

People who smoke. If you’ve smoked for a long time, you could have damage to the small hairs that line the insides of your lungs and help filter out germs. When they’re damaged, they aren’t as good at stopping those bad germs.

Heavy drinkers. If you drink too much alcohol, you may have a weakened immune system. Your white blood cells (which fight infection) don’t work as well as they do for people with a healthy immune system.

People getting over surgery or a severe illness. If you were in the hospital ICU (intensive care unit) and needed help breathing with a ventilator, you’re at risk of getting pneumonia. The same is true if you’ve just had major surgery or if you’re healing from a serious injury. When your immune system is weak because of illness or injury or because it’s helping you get better from surgery, you can’t fight off germs as well as you normally can.

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Who Shouldn’t Get It?

Not everybody needs to get a pneumonia vaccine. If you’re a healthy adult between ages 18 and 64, you can probably skip the vaccine. Also, you shouldn’t get it if you’re allergic to what’s in the vaccine. Not sure? Ask your doctor.

When to Get the Vaccine

There’s no such thing as pneumonia season, like flu season. If you and your doctor decide that you need to have a pneumonia vaccine, you can get it done at any time of the year. If it’s flu season, you can even get a pneumonia vaccine at the same time that you get a flu vaccine, as long as you receive each shot in a different arm.

How It Works

There are two vaccines for pneumonia that protect against different types of the infection.

  • PCV13 helps protect people from 13 of the most severe types of bacteria that cause pneumonia.
  • PPSV23 protects against an additional 23 types of pneumonia bacteria. Neither can prevent every type of pneumonia, but they work against more than 30 common, severe types.

People who need a pneumonia vaccine should get both shots: first, the PCV13 shot and then the PPSV23 shot a year or more later.

For most people, one of each shot should be enough to protect them for their entire lives. Sometimes, you may need a booster shot. Ask your doctor whether you should get one.

What Are the Risks?

You cannot get pneumonia from the vaccine. The shots only contain an extract of the pneumonia bacteria, not the actual bacteria that cause the illness.

But some people have mild side effects from the vaccine, including:

  • Swelling, soreness, or redness where you got the shot
  • Mild fever
  • Fussiness or irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore muscles

Fewer than 1% of people who get the pneumonia vaccine have these types of side effects. Allergic reactions are even rarer.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on December 11, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Pneumonia.”

CDC: “Pneumococcal disease.” “Pneumonia can be prevented -- vaccines can help.” “Contraindications and precautions to commonly used vaccines in adults.”  “Influenza (Flu).” “Pneumococcal vaccination: Who needs it?”

National Foundation for Infectious Diseases: “Facts about pneumococcal disease for adults.”

Illinois Department of Public Health: “Pneumococcal disease.”

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