Orlando F. Mills, MD, MPH

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Should I receive a Pneumococcal Vaccine? Yes.

“According to recent information for the United States, it is estimated that approximately 300,000 adults 50 years of age and older are hospitalized yearly because of pneumococcal pneumonia,” Pneumococcal disease is a substantial cause of illness and death” (FDA)


Vaccination can prevent pneumonia caused by the bacterium, Streptococcus pneumoniae.  There are now two safe pneumococcal vaccines – the Pneumovax 23 and a newer vaccine, Prevnar 13.  Both are safe and have been tested in thousands of people.  They are made from dead germs and cannot make you sick. 


Pneumovax protects against 23 kinds of pneumococcus, which is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia. Vaccination might not prevent you from ever getting pneumonia, but it could keep you out of the hospital and prevent the infection from spreading to your brain or bloodstream.  The "new" pneumonia vaccine, known as Prevnar 13, protects against 13 strains of pneumococcus. Despite containing fewer strains in the vaccine, it makes the body produce a higher level of protective antibodies.

The CDC recommends both vaccines only for people at the highest risk of death from pneumococcal disease, including those who've had the spleen removed, those with HIV infection or blood cancers, and transplant recipients.

When Should Adults Get a Pneumonia Vaccine?

The pneumococcal vaccine can be given at any time of the year.


Who should get the Pneumococcal vaccine?

  1. Age 65 and above
  2. Younger ages for persons who smoke or have asthma.
  3. People with lung, heart, liver, or kidney disease.
  4. Those with a chronic (long-term) disease or condition, including diabetes, cirrhosis, sickle cell disease, and alcoholism.
  5. People with a weakened immune system due to conditions or diseases such as Hodgkin’s disease, lymphoma or leukemia, multiple myeloma, HIV/AIDs, kidney failure, spleen damage or no spleen, and an organ transplant.
  6. Patients who take medications that weaken the immune system, including chemotherapy drugs and long-term steroids, or who are receiving radiation therapy.
  7. Those living in a nursing home or long-term care home.

Do the pneumococcal vaccines cause side effects?

Side effects are unusual, but can include the following:

  1. Redness and tenderness at the injection site
2. Slight fever
3. Irritability
4. Loss of appetite
5. Muscle soreness
6. Symptoms of pneumonia


Even if you get the pneumococcal vaccine, you might still develop pneumonia. The symptoms of pneumonia can range from mild to severe, depending on your risk factors. Common symptoms are similar to the symptoms caused by a cold or the flu. They include the following: 

  1. Cough
  2. Fever
  3. Bringing up mucus when you cough
  4. Difficulty breathing
  5. Chills
  6. Chest pain

If you have any of these symptoms, or if you suddenly start getting worse after having a cold or the flu, make an appointment to see Dr. Mills. 


Who Should Not Get the Pneumococcal Vaccine?

You should NOT get a pneumonia vaccine if

  1. You have had:A life-threatening allergic reaction to a pneumonia vaccine in the past or a severe allergy to any of the vaccine's ingredients
  2. If you are moderately to severely ill, your doctor may recommend waiting to get the shot until after you recover. The CDC says you can still get the vaccine if you have a mild illness, such as a cold or low-grade fever.

Severe allergic reaction are rare but symptoms may include:

  1. Behavior changes
  2. Breathing difficulty, including wheezing
  3. Dizziness
  4. Hoarse voice
  5. High fever
  6. Hives
  7. Pale skin
  8. Rapid heart beat
  9. Weakness

Seek immediate medical care if you notice any of these signs after receiving a pneumonia vaccine.


A second dose of vaccine may be  indicated for an adult between ages 19 and 64 for chronic issues including:

  1. A damaged spleen or no spleen
  2. Kidney disease
  3. A weakened immune system
  4. Cancer
  5. History of transplant
  7. Sickle cell disease
You may need a second dose if your first dose was given before age 65 if it has been more than five years since being vaccinated.  Ask Dr. Mills if you believe you may need a second dose.