Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. It causes the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs to get inflamed (irritated and swollen). They may fill up with fluid or pus. This causes a variety of symptoms, which range from mild to severe. Pneumonia is usually caused by a virus or pneumococcal bacteria. In addition to pneumonia, pneumococcal bacteria cause other serious infections such as blood infection (sepsis), sinus infections, ear infections, and meningitis.

Pneumonia can also be caused by fungi or irritants that you breathe into your lungs. How serious pneumonia is depends on many factors. These include what caused the pneumonia, your age, and your overall health.

The pneumonia shot helps protect people from the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia. The bacterium is called Streptococcus pneumoniae. The vaccine contains purified parts of the bacterium. There are no live ingredients.

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. Many doctors do, however, give a second shot 5 to 10 years after the first shot.
  • Between 2 and 65 years old: one shot if you have an immune system disorder or if you’re a smoker. The same is true for people who have had surgery to remove the spleen or who have a spleen that is not working.

Currently, there are two pneumonia vaccines approved by the FDA: Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or Prevnar 13®) or pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23 or Pneumovax 23®)

What’s the difference between PCV13 and PPSV23?

The main difference between the two is the amount of bacteria that the vaccine can help protect against. You’ll likely receive one of two of these vaccines:

helps protect you against 13 different strains of pneumococcal bacteria helps protect you against 23 different strains of pneumococcal bacteria
usually given four separate times to children under two generally 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 condition given to anyone over 19 who regularly smokes nicotine products like cigarettes (standard or electronic) or cigars
More information about Prevnar 13® can be found HERE.
More information about Pneumovax 23® can be found HERE.

People often ask why flu shots need to be given every year and the pneumonia shot only once or twice during adulthood. The reason is that the influenza virus constantly changes (mutates). These mutations cause the virus to be different each flu season. The vaccine that worked last year might not provide protection for this year’s flu strain. On the other hand, the parts of the pneumonia shot that stimulate our immune system are always present year after year.