Adults: Protect Yourself with Pneumococcal Vaccines

Doctor consulting with patient

Many adults may be at increased risk for pneumococcal disease and not know it. Two vaccines provide protection against this serious and sometimes deadly disease. Talk to your clinician to make sure you are up to date on these and other recommended vaccines.

Each year in the United States, pneumococcal disease kills thousands of adults. Thousands more end up in the hospital because of pneumococcal disease. It can cause severe infections of the lungs (pneumonia), bloodstream (bacteremia), and lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). Vaccines are the best way to prevent pneumococcal disease.

Two vaccines help prevent pneumococcal disease:

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

PCV13 protects against 13 strains of pneumococcal bacteria and PPSV23 protects against 23 strains of pneumococcal bacteria. Both vaccines provide protection against illnesses like meningitis and bacteremia. PCV13 also provides protection against pneumonia.

Which Adults Should and Shouldn’t Get PCV13?

CDC recommends PCV13 for:

  • All adults 65 years or older
  • Adults 19 years or older with certain health conditions

Don’t get PCV13 if you have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to:

  • A shot of the vaccine
  • An earlier pneumococcal vaccine called PCV7 (or Prevnar)
  • Any vaccine containing diphtheria toxoid (for example, DTaP)

In addition, anyone with a severe allergy to any component of PCV13 should not get the vaccine.

Infographic: What do all of these people have in common?

Courtesy of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. View larger version and text description.external icon

Which Adults Should and Shouldn’t Get PPSV23?

CDC recommends PPSV23 for:

  • All adults 65 years or older
  • Adults 19 through 64 years old with certain health conditions or who smoke cigarettes

Don’t get PPSV23 if you:

  • Ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a shot of PPSV23
  • Have a severe allergy to any component of the vaccine

Pneumococcal Vaccines Are Safe

These vaccines are safe, but side effects can occur. Most side effects are mild, such as arm swelling or soreness, and do not affect daily activities.

You Shouldn’t Get Both Pneumococcal Vaccines at the Same Time

CDC recommends against getting PCV13 and PPSV23 at the same time. If you need both vaccines, get PCV13 first, followed by a shot of PPSV23 at another visit. Talk with your healthcare professional to find out when you should come back for the second vaccine.

You Can Get Influenza and Either Pneumococcal Vaccine at the Same Time

You can get either pneumococcal vaccine (but not both) when you get the influenza (flu) vaccine. While you don’t need a pneumococcal vaccine every year, it is important to get a flu vaccine each flu season. Having the flu increases your risk of getting pneumococcal disease.

There Are Several Ways to Cover the Cost of Pneumococcal Vaccines

Most private health insurance policies cover pneumococcal vaccines. Check with your insurance provider for details on whether there is any cost to you and for a list of in-network vaccine providers. Medicare Part B also covers 100% of the cost for both pneumococcal vaccines (when administered at least 1 year apart).

Pneumococcal Disease Can Be Deadly for Older Adults

Most pneumococcal infections are mild. However, some can be deadly, especially for adults 65 years or older:

  • Pneumococcal pneumonia kills about 1 in 20 older adults who get it.
  • Pneumococcal bacteremia kills about 1 in 6 older adults who get it.
  • Pneumococcal meningitis kills about 1 in 6 older adults who get it.

Many Healthcare Facilities Offer Pneumococcal Vaccines

Pneumococcal vaccines may be available at private doctor offices, public or community health clinics, or pharmacies. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if they offer pneumococcal vaccines. Use the Adult Vaccine Finderexternal icon to help find places that provide pneumococcal vaccines near you.

Pneumococcal Disease Can Cause Both Mild and Serious Infections

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, also known as pneumococcus. Pneumococcal bacteria can cause many types of illnesses that range from mild to very severe. When pneumococcal bacteria spread from the nose and throat to ears or sinuses, it generally causes mild infections. When the bacteria spread into other parts of the body, it can lead to severe health problems (pneumonia, bacteremia, and meningitis).

These illnesses can be deadly, especially for:

  • Adults 65 years or older
  • People with chronic health conditions
  • People whose immune systems are weakened by disease or medicine (immunocompromised)

Pneumococcal disease can lead to disabilities like deafness, brain damage, or loss of arms or legs.

Pneumococcal Disease Is Contagious

Pneumococcal bacteria spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing, and close contact. People can carry the bacteria in their nose and throat without being sick and spread the bacteria to others.

Page last reviewed: September 18, 2019