The Pneumococcal Vaccine

Written by Amy Boulanger | Published on January 12, 2015
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on January 12, 2015

Pneumococcal Vaccination

The pneumococcal vaccine protects against infections caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae. These bacteria can cause:

  • blood infections
  • pneumonia
  • meningitis

Infections can be quite serious. For example, meningitis can cause severe complications including:

  • brain damage
  • deafness
  • death

Infections caused by S. pneumoniae can also be difficult to treat. Some strains are resistant to antibiotics. Therefore, prevention is very important.

Getting Vaccinated

There are currently two pneumococcal vaccines used in the United States.

PCV13

The PCV13 (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine) protects against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria. There are more than 90 types of pneumococcal bacteria. A four-dose series is recommended in children, as follows.

  • First dose: 2 months old
  • Second dose: 4 months old
  • Third dose: 6 months old
  • Fourth dose: 12 to 15 months old

Healthy children who have not finished vaccination by age 2 should get one dose. Children with certain chronic diseases may need additional doses between the ages of 2 and 6. Children who began immunization with the older PCV7 vaccine can continue the series using PCV13.

PPSV

The PPSV (pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine) protects against 23 types of bacteria. It’s recommended for all adults over 65 years old. It can also be given to younger people with certain health conditions like:

  • HIV
  • cardiovascular disease
  • kidney disease
  • immune suppression
  • diabetes
  • alcoholism
  • lung disease
  • cirrhosis

This vaccine is also used in smokers and those with asthma. People usually only need one dose of PPSV. However, some people may need a second dose.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

Certain people should not receive this vaccination. This includes anyone who has:

  • had a severe allergic reaction to a past dose of the vaccine
  • had an allergic reaction to any vaccines containing diphtheria toxoid (PCV13 only)
  • allergies to any component of the vaccine
  • a current moderate to severe illness

PPSV is not recommended for use during pregnancy. Women at high risk of disease should get it before becoming pregnant.

Potential Side Effects

Serious side effects from these vaccines are extremely rare. However, some people may have mild side effects like:  

  • soreness at the site of the shot
  • redness, or swelling at the site of the shot
  • drowsiness
  • temporary loss of appetite
  • mild fever

The risk of higher fever is about one in 20 with PCV13.

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