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How the Pneumonia Vaccine Protects You for Life

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
A doctor applying a sticking plaster to her patient's arm

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. It claimed more than 47,000 lives in the United States in 2020, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pneumococcal vaccines – commonly known as the pneumonia vaccine – are a lifesaver. They’re recommended for people at high risk for pneumococcal disease, which includes not only pneumonia, but also bacterial meningitis and blood infections.

Who Should Be Vaccinated?

“Pneumococcal vaccines significantly reduce the risk of pneumonia and other invasive infections,” says University Hospitals family medicine specialist Sarah Lang, MD.

“Studies have shown the vaccines are 50 to 80 percent effective preventing severe invasive pneumococcal disease in older adults,” Dr. Lang says.

The pneumonia vaccine is recommended for:

  • Children under age 5
  • Adults 65 and older
  • Older children and adults 18-64 at high risk because of health conditions

Which Vaccine Is Right for You?

There now are four pneumococcal vaccines licensed for use in the United States. Which vaccine you receive depends on age, underlying health conditions and whether you have received previous pneumococcal vaccination.

“It can be complicated. It’s not like getting your flu shot every year,” Dr. Lang says. “What you need depends on who you are or what your risks are.”

One shot usually protects you for life; however, you may need a booster based on changes in your medical condition, Dr. Lang says.

One Shot or Two?

People at high risk because of health conditions typically receive one shot before age 65 and one shot after, Dr. Lang says. Doses should be separated by at least 5 years. Conditions may include:

  • Smoking
  • Sickle Cell Disease
  • Cancer
  • Asplenia (no spleen function)
  • Immunocompromising conditions
  • Long-term steroid use
  • Cerebrospinal fluid leak
  • Asthma or chronic lung disease
  • Chronic kidney, liver or heart disease
  • Cochlear implant
  • Alcoholism

Your doctor will advise the best vaccination regimen based on your circumstances.

“There’s a lot of flexibility now around what you can do. The important thing is to check with your doctor,” Dr. Lang says.

You can receive the pneumococcal vaccine at the same time as flu and COVID-19 vaccines.

If you get your pneumococcal vaccine at a retail pharmacy, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor about whether you’ve been vaccinated previously (if you aren’t sure). Previous vaccination will have an effect on which vaccine you should receive. Adults with unknown vaccine status should be considered as not having been vaccinated.

“You want to be clear on what you’ve had and what you need,” Dr Lang says.

Related Links

Whatever your age or stage of life, prevention is the best medicine. That's why it’s important to see your primary care provider for age-appropriate screenings and vaccinations that can prevent disease. Learn more.

Need a primary care provider? Use our easy online tool to find a PCP and book an appointment at a time that is convenient for you.