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The Pneumonia Vaccine

What is the pneumonia vaccine?

The pneumonia vaccine is a shot that can protect you from an infection called pneumococcal (pronounced "new-mo-kok-al") disease. The germ responsible for this disease can attack different parts of the body. It can infect the lungs, causing pneumonia. It can also invade the blood stream (bacteremia), and if it reaches the brain, it can cause meningitis. All of these are serious infections.

More than 200,000 cases of pneumococcal pneumonia occur annually in the United States, and approximately 40,000 Americans die from the disease each year.

Who needs to be concerned about pneumococcal pneumonia?

While anybody can catch pneumococcal pneumonia, the following people are at higher risk for doing so:

  • People age 65 years or older;

  • Residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities who are age 50 or older;

  • People with chronic heart or lung disease, diabetes mellitus, or absence of the spleen (age 2 or older).

What can I do to prevent pneumococcal pneumonia?

For most people, all you need is one shot. Getting the pneumonia vaccine can protect you against the germ that causes pneumococcal pneumonia and the other pneumococcal diseases.

The pneumonia vaccine is recommended for everyone age 65 and older. People who are at higher risk for the disease (see the list at the left) should also be vaccinated.

While the pneumonia vaccine will last most people a lifetime, those who have a weak immune system (due to an organ transplant, kidney disease, HIV infection, or other conditions) may need to receive periodic booster shots. Consult your doctor for more information.

Additional information

Some people have mild side effects from the pneumonia vaccine (redness, swelling, or pain at the site of the injection), but these are usually minor and last for only a very short time. Fever, muscle-ache, and more serious pain or swelling on the arm has been reported in less than 1% of people who get the shot. Remember, though, the pneumonia vaccine can be a lifesaver!

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