Locations:
Search IconSearch
December 28, 2021/Health Conditions/Lung

Worried About Pneumonia? Why the Vaccine Is Your Best Defense

Find out who needs protection the most

A doctor applies a Band-Aid to a patient's arm following vaccination

Every year, your doctor likely reminds you of the benefits of getting a flu shot. But there’s another vaccine you should discuss with your doctor, too — one that helps protect you from pneumonia.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

While not a seasonal vaccine or as widely prescribed as the flu shot, the pneumococcal vaccine helps protect those most at risk for serious pneumococcal infections that can lead to complications, a hospital stay or even death.

“And in the age of COVID-19, it’s especially important to focus on the health and safety of your lungs,” says pulmonologist Anu Suri, MD, FCCP. For those who have preexisting conditions, even more so.

What you should know about pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs that typically stems from several kinds of germs, most often bacteria and viruses.

Symptoms can develop gradually or suddenly, including:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Loss of appetite.

Early detection is often challenging because many people with these symptoms assume they have a cold or the flu.

It’s important to also note that the vaccine helps protect against some — but not all — bacterial pneumonia.

“There are dozens of different types of bacterial pneumonia,” says Dr. Suri. “The vaccine will certainly reduce your risk of the most common bacterial pneumonia.”

Who should get the pneumonia vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the pneumococcal vaccine for those who fall into the following groups:

  • All babies and children younger than 2 years old.
  • All adults 65 years or older.
  • Adults 19 through 64 years old who smoke cigarettes.
  • Children older than 2 and adults younger than 65 who have certain chronic diseases (those that affect the heart, lung and kidney).
  • Those who are at increased risk for certain diseases (diabetes, chronic heart, lung and liver disease) and those who have impaired immune systems.

The recommendations are sometimes confusing, so it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about your questions and concerns, Dr. Suri says.

And don’t wait to have that conversation. “This is an infection you see year-round,” she adds.

Who should not get the pneumonia vaccine?

Again, it’s best to determine this with your doctor, but as a general rule, the CDC states you should not get the pneumococcal vaccine if:

  • You or your child has had a severe or life-threatening allergy to the current PCV13 or Prevnar 13®) vaccine, the past PCV7 vaccine or any vaccine containing diphtheria toxoid.
  • You or your child are currently battling a severe illness.

Advertisement

How does the pneumonia vaccine work?

There are currently two vaccines administered in the United States:

  1. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or Prevnar 13®). This vaccine joins a protein that helps build immunity. Infants and very young children don’t respond to polysaccharide antigens, but linkage to this protein enables the developing immune system to recognize and process polysaccharide antigens, leading to production of antibody. It helps protect against disease from 13 types of Streptococcal pneumoniae capsular serotypes that are the most common cause of serious infection. Typically, children receive three doses, and adults at high risk of severe pneumococcal infection receive one dose.
  2. Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23 or Pneumovax23®). This vaccine looks like certain bacteria. This stimulates your body to build protection against the 23 serotypes of Streptococcal pneumonia contained in the vaccine. These 23 serotypes now represent at least 50% to 60% of pneumococcal disease isolates in adults. Most people receive a single dose, with one to two boosters recommended for some.

Know the facts about the pneumonia vaccine

Just as with a flu shot, and now COVID-19 vaccines, some people believe that getting a pneumococcal vaccine will cause them to come down with the flu or virus, or experience long-term side effects.

“This is absolutely not true,” Dr. Suri says.

Not only will the pneumococcal vaccine help reduce the risk of contracting certain types of bacterial pneumonia, but it also guards against serious consequences resulting from the flu and severe infections, such as sepsis.

For young children, older adults, smokers and those with other risk factors, the vaccine is a healthy choice to make.

“I can’t see any reason to avoid this vaccine and every reason to get it,” says Dr. Suri.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Provider holding a vaccination needle
September 10, 2019/Brain & Nervous System
What You Need To Know About MS and Vaccines

Most routine vaccines are safe for people living with multiple sclerosis — talk with your team about your needs

Yogurt, granola, fruit parfatis, with fruit on cutting boards
April 26, 2024/Lung
What To Eat When You Have COPD

A change in diet won’t cure COPD — but getting to or maintaining a healthy weight will help

male sitting on couch using inhaler and holding chest
January 9, 2024/Lung
Understanding the Difference Between Asthma and COPD

Both conditions have similar symptoms, but different causes and treatments

female with hand on chest holding inhaler in other hand, with of breathlessness float in background
January 4, 2024/Lung
Preventing COPD Exacerbations and Flare-Ups

You can reduce your chances of a flare-up by quitting smoking, avoiding respiratory infections and following your doctor’s orders

close up of arm with nicotine patch on it
January 3, 2024/Lung
How (and Why) to Quit Dipping for Good

Nicotine replacement products and relaxation techniques can help you ditch the dip

lit cigarette floating in black background
January 2, 2024/Lung
WARNING: Even Light Smoking Affects Respiratory Health

Even only a couple cigarettes a day can lead to potentially deadly lung diseases like COPD and emphysema

older male patient speaking with doctor holding tablet in office
December 21, 2023/Lung
What’s My Risk of Lung Cancer After I Quit Smoking?

Your risk goes down once you quit, but you may still need a lung cancer screening

close up of a person with oxygen supply in nose
December 19, 2023/Lung
Have COPD? Exercise Can Help Keep You Out of the Hospital

Get improved quality of life and breathe better

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad