Should You Get a Pneumonia Vaccination?

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR

The term pneumonia refers to any infection of the lung. The "pneumonia vaccine" is given to prevent one specific type of pneumonia--the pneumonia caused by the Pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumoniae) bacterium. Pneumonia caused by Pneumococcus is the most common form of infection occurring outside of a hospital or institutional setting in the U.S. Pneumococcus infection is responsible for over 6,000 deaths per year in the U.S.-- the highest number for any vaccine-preventable disease. A serious complication of pneumonia, pneumococcal meningitis, is associated with a particularly high fatality rate.

Certain groups of people are considered to be at particularly high risk for the development of pneumonia, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend vaccination for these groups. Those recommended groups include:

  • People age 65 or older
  • People over age two years of age who have problems with their lungs, heart, liver, or kidneys
  • People over age two years of age with health problems like diabetes, sickle cell disease, alcoholism, or HIV/AIDS
  • Persons over two years of age who are taking any treatments that weaken the body's immune system
  • Alaskan natives and some Native American populations

The vaccination is also recommended for persons who have had their spleens removed. Unlike vaccination with the "flu shot," the pneumococcal vaccine does not need to be given each year. One dosage of the vaccine is usually sufficient, but sometimes doctors recommend a second dose of the vaccine. People over age 65 who received the vaccine prior to age 65 are generally given a second dose along with people with certain serious medical conditions.

If you're concerned about your risk for developing pneumonia, your doctor can help you decide whether vaccination is necessary for you. For more information on the pneumococcal vaccine, please read the Pneumococcal Vaccination article.


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