Pneumonia Vaccine Options: What’s the Difference?

Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in your lungs, sometimes filling them with fluid or pus. It can be caused by different organisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. You can also get pneumonia if you inhale (aspirate) a foreign object.

The symptoms of pneumonia include fever, chest pain, muscle aches, shortness of breath, chills, and a "wet" cough.

Most people recover from pneumonia without any problems, but some develop complications such as a lung abscess, respiratory failure, sepsis (a life-threatening medical emergency), and even death. People are more likely to have complications from pneumonia if they are in high-risk groups, such as young children, older adults, people who are hospitalized, and people with compromised immune systems.

Pneumococcal disease is the name used to describe any infection that is caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumonia (pneumococcus). Pneumococcal infections can range from ear and sinus infections to pneumonia and bloodstream infections. Thankfully, there are vaccines to help prevent pneumococcal disease.

Senior woman looking at camera pointing at her arm with a bandage after getting vaccine


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Vaccination Options

Pneumococcal disease is common in young children, but older adults are at the greatest risk of serious illness and death. In the United States, there are two vaccines that can help to prevent pneumococcal disease in these high-risk groups. They are:

  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13)
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23)

Both pneumonia vaccines encourage your body to make antibodies (proteins produced by the body to neutralize or destroy disease-carrying organisms and toxins) against pneumococcal bacteria. These antibodies protect you from becoming ill if you're infected with the bacteria.

Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV13)

PCV13, marketed under the name Prevnar 13, is a vaccine that helps protect against the 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria that most commonly cause serious infections in children and adults.

The PCV13 vaccine has been found to be highly effective. Research shows that the vaccine's effectiveness against PCV13 serotypes is between 63% and 72%.

Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine (PPSV23)

PPSV23, marketed under the name Pneumovax 23, is a vaccine that helps protect against serious infections caused by 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. These types are responsible for about nine out of every 10 infections that are caused by pneumococcus bacteria.

Besides pneumonia, pneumococcal bacteria can also cause:

The efficacy of the PPSV23 vaccine varies based on your age and how strong your immune system is. PPSV23 can be 60%–80% effective if you’re over the age of 64 and have a healthy immune system, but lower if you’re over the age of 64 and have an immune disorder.

Both types of pneumococcal vaccines are inactivated vaccines and do not contain any live organisms. That means they cannot cause the infections that they protect against.

Who Should Get These Vaccinations

Pneumonia vaccination is not recommended for everyone. The vaccines are primarily used to protect people who are at an increased risk of serious illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends PCV13 for:

  1. All children younger than two years old
  2. People ages 2–18 years old with certain medical conditions or other indications such as:
  • Cochlear implants (hearing devices implanted behind the ear)
  • Cerebrospinal fluid leak (fluid leaking from a tear in connective tissue near the brain or spinal cord)
  • Sickle cell disease (an inherited blood cell disorder)
  • Chronic renal (kidney) failure
  • Cancer
  • HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
  • Solid-organ transplant

The CDC recommends PPSV23 for:

  1. All adults age 65 years or older
  2. Adults ages 19–64 years old who smoke cigarettes
  3. People ages 19–64 years old with certain medical conditions or other indications, including:

Who Should Not Get These Vaccinations

The pneumonia vaccines are not recommended for people between the ages of 18 and 64 who are healthy.

The vaccines should not be given to anyone who has had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the vaccine or has a severe allergy to a component of the vaccine.

Vaccine Side Effects

The possible side effects of both pneumonia vaccines are usually mild and resolve on their own within a few days. Most are related to injection site discomfort or mild, flu-like symptoms.

Among the most common vaccine side effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Low-grade fever
  • Muscle pain (myalgia)
  • Joint pain (arthralgia)
  • Injection site pain, redness, swelling, or tenderness
  • Chills
  • Drowsiness

In the event of a more severe reaction—including trouble breathing, facial swelling, tongue swelling, confusion, or seizure—call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

While rare, a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) can occur, If left untreated, the reaction can lead to shock, coma, and even death.

Vaccination Schedule

The CDC has a vaccine schedule that shows who is eligible for the pneumonia vaccine and explains when they should receive it.

The vaccine information will change depending on the pneumonia immunizations that you received as a child (if any), your underlying health conditions, and your age. The basic vaccine schedule can be found below.

Administration of PCV13 and PPSV23 Vaccines
 PCV13 PPSV23
Infants and young children usually need four doses of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, at 2, 4, 6, and 12–15 months of age. All adults 65 years or older
One dose of PCV13 is recommended, based on shared clinical decision-making, if previously not administered for people ages 65 years or older who are immunocompetent. Adults 19–64 with certain medical conditions that can lead to an increased risk for pneumococcal disease* as well as cigarette smokers.
Booster injections/revaccination is generally not needed for PCV13 in adulthood. Anyone who received doses of PPSV23 before age 65 should receive one final dose of the vaccine at age 65 or older at least five years after the prior PPSV23 dose.
*Cerebrospinal fluid leak, cochlear implant, sickle cell disease, chronic heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes mellitus, immunodeficiency, HIV infection, chronic renal failure, cancers, solid organ transplantation

If you are not sure if you should get the vaccine or do not know when you should get the shot, talk to your primary care doctor.

Summary

The pneumonia vaccine is recommended for all infants as part of their routine series of childhood shots. Older adults and people with certain medical conditions can also get a pneumonia vaccine to protect them against pneumococcal illness.

While people sometimes worry that the shot will make them sick, you cannot get pneumonia from either pneumonia vaccine. The shots only contain an extract of the pneumonia bacteria, not the actual bacteria that cause the illness.

The pneumonia vaccine not only protects against pneumococcal disease but a range of other serious conditions.

Side effects from the pneumonia vaccine such as pain around the injection site and mild flu-like symptoms are rare and can be managed at home. Severe allergic reactions are even rarer, but if they do happen, they require urgent medical assistance.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to discuss your vaccination options with your primary care physician. You'll also want to stay up to date with other immunizations, like your annual flu shot, since influenza is a common cause of pneumonia in people who are vulnerable.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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