Facts about Pneumococcal Disease for Adults

What is pneumococcal disease?
Pneumococcal (noo-muh-kok-ul) disease is an infection caused by a type of bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. Pneumococcal disease can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infection (sepsis), or meningitis. The bacteria spread through coughing or sneezing, or through direct contact such as kissing. Pneumococcal infection kills tens of thousands of people in the US each year. Older people are most likely to die from pneumococcal disease, but younger adults with certain health conditions are also at increased risk for severe illness and death.

Pneumococcal disease can come on quickly and without warning and the symptoms are not the same for everyone. Depending on whether the infection causes pneumonia, bloodstream infection, or meningitis, people may have some combination of the following: abrupt onset of fever, shaking/chills, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, stiff neck, disorientation, and sensitivity to light.

There are two safe and effective vaccines recommended to protect adults against pneumococcal disease; a pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) and a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13). 

Who should be vaccinated against pneumococcal disease?
CDC recommends both PCV13 and PPSV23 for

    • All adults age 65 years and older 
    • Adults age 19 to 64 years with:
        o Conditions or treatments that affect the immune system (such as: HIV, lymphoma, leukemia, or Hodgkin disease, chronic kidney disease, radiation therapy, or certain long-term steroid use)† 
        o Functional or anatomic asplenia† 
        o Cochlear implants or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaks

*PCV13 and PPSV23 cannot be given at the same visit. Your healthcare professional can tell you what doses you need and the timing that is right for you.

†A second PPSV23 vaccine is recommended for these individuals five years after the first PPSV23.

CDC recommends only PPSV23 for the following adults age 19 to 64 years: 

    • Those with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, lung, heart, or liver disease, or alcoholism 
    • Cigarette smokers 
    • Residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities

These individuals should receive a dose of PCV13 when they reach age 65 and should consult with their healthcare professional.

Vaccine safety
Pneumococcal vaccination is safe and effective in preventing illness and death due to pneumococcal disease. Some people experience mild side effects, but these are usually minor and last only a short time. When side effects do occur, the most common include swelling and soreness at the injection site. A few people experience fever and muscle pain. As with any medicine, there are very small risks that serious problems could occur after getting the vaccine. However, the potential risks associated with pneumococcal disease are much greater than the potential risks associated with pneumococcal vaccination. You cannot get pneumococcal disease from vaccination.

Disease and vaccine facts

  • FACT: Pneumococcal vaccine can be given at any time during the year.
  • FACT: One pneumococcal vaccine can be given at the same time as influenza vaccine, but in the opposite arm. If you need a second pneumococcal vaccine, your healthcare professional can tell you when to come back for it.
  • FACT: In the US, pneumococcal pneumonia, meningitis, and bloodstream infections kill tens of thousands of people each year, including 18,000 adults age 65 years and older.
  • FACT: Heart problems are common in people hospitalized because of pneumococcal pneumonia.
  • FACT: One pneumococcal vaccination is fully paid for by Medicare Part B (no copayment and no deductible) if the healthcare professional accepts the Medicare-approved payment.
  • FACT: You cannot get pneumococcal disease from vaccination. 

Updated October 2014

For more information, speak with your healthcare professional or visit www.adultvaccination.org.