The pneumonia shot is a vaccine that helps protect you against pneumococcal disease, or diseases caused by a bacteria known as Streptococcus pneumoniae. The vaccine can help protect you from pneumococcal disease for many years.

One of the most common causes of pneumonia is infection of the lungs with the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae.

These bacteria mainly affect your lungs and can cause sometimes life-threatening infections in other parts of your body, too, including the bloodstream (bacteremia) or brain and spine (meningitis).

The pneumonia shot is especially recommended if you fall into one of these age groups:

  • Younger than 2 years old: four shots (at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and then a booster between 12 to 15 months).
  • Older than 65 years old: one shot, which will last you the rest of your life.
  • Between 2 and 65 years old: one shot if you have an immune system disorder or if you’re a smoker.

Pneumococcal disease is common among babies and toddlers, so make sure your young child is vaccinated. But older adults are more at risk of having life-threatening complications from a pneumonia infection, so it’s also important to start getting vaccinated around age 65.

You’ll likely receive one of two pneumonia vaccines: pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or Prevnar 13) or pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23 or Pneumovax 23).

PCV13PPSV23
helps protect you against 13 different strains of pneumococcal bacteriahelps protect you against 23 different strains of pneumococcal bacteria
usually given four separate times to children under twogenerally given once to anyone over 65
generally given only once to adults older than 65 or young adults older than 19 if they have an immune conditiongiven to anyone over 19 who regularly smokes nicotine products like cigarettes (standard or electronic) or cigars

Some other things to keep in mind:

  • Both vaccines help prevent pneumococcal infections as well as complications like bacteremia and meningitis.
  • You may need more than one pneumonia shot during your lifetime. A 2016 study found that, if you’re over 65, receiving both the PCV13 shot and the PPSV23 shot may provide the best protection against all the strains of bacteria that cause pneumonia.
  • Don’t get the shots too close together. If your doctor recommends both, you’ll need to wait about six months in between each shot.
  • Check with your doctor to make sure you’re not allergic to any of the ingredients used to make these vaccines before getting either shot.

Not everyone should get these vaccines. Avoid PCV13 if you’ve had severe allergies in the past to:

  • a vaccine made with diphtheria toxoid (such as DTaP)
  • another version of the shot called PCV7 (Prevnar)
  • any previous injections of a pneumonia shot

And avoid PPSV23 if:

  • You’re allergic to any ingredients in the shot.
  • You’ve had severe allergies to a PPSV23 shot in the past.
  • You’re very sick.

The immune system reaction that follows a vaccine injection has a chance of causing side effects. But keep in mind that the substances that make up vaccines are usually the harmless sugar (polysaccharide) surface of the bacteria.

There’s no need to worry that a vaccine will cause an infection.

Some possible side effects include:

  • low-grade fever between 98.6°F (37°C) and 100.4°F (38°C)
  • irritation, redness, or swelling where you were injected

Side effects may also vary based on how old you are when you’re injected. Side effects that are more common in babies include:

  • inability to fall asleep
  • drowsiness
  • irritable behavior
  • not taking food or a lack of appetite

Rare but severe symptoms in babies can include:

  • high fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher
  • seizures that result from a fever (febrile seizures)
  • itchiness from a rash or redness

Side effects more common in adults include:

  • feeling sore where you were injected
  • hardness or swelling where you were injected

People of all ages with allergies to certain ingredients in the pneumonia vaccine may have some serious allergic reactions to the shot.

The most serious possible reaction is anaphylactic shock. This happens when your throat swells and blocks your windpipe, making it difficult or impossible to breathe. Seek emergency medical attention if this happens.

It’s still possible to get pneumonia even if you’ve had either of these shots. But each of the two vaccines is about 50 to 70 percent effective.

Efficacy also varies based on your age and how strong your immune system is. PPSV23 can be 60 to 80 percent effective if you’re over 65 and have a healthy immune system, but lower if you’re over 65 and have an immune disorder.

The pneumonia shot is an effective way to help prevent pneumonia caused by a bacterial infection.

Get it at least once in your life, especially if you’re over 65. It’s best to get vaccinated when you’re a baby or if you have a condition that affects your immune system, according to your doctor’s recommendations.