Adult Pneumococcal Vaccinations

By Julie Wiekamp, MPAS, PA-C

Much confusion exists surrounding the adult pneumococcal vaccines. Currently, there are two types of pneumococcal vaccines on the market and both are quite good at preventing one of the most common types of bacterial pneumonia. The CDC recommends all adults over the age of 65 receive both vaccines, while adults with other medical conditions may receive the vaccinations earlier.

Pneumonia is inflammation or infection of the lungs. It is caused by many types of viruses and bacteria. Symptoms include fever, chills, fatigue, productive cough and shortness of breath. Patients may even become nauseated or wheezy. If taken, chest xrays will often show consolidation or infiltrates. Treatment depends on the type of virus or bacteria causing the pneumonia, as well as the general health of the patient. Sometimes, patients may need to be hospitalized to clear the infection.

The pneumococcal vaccinations specifically provide immunity against certain strains of the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. Streptococcus pneumoniae causes pneumonia, sinus infections, ear infections and meningitis. The pneumococcal vaccinations do NOT provide immunity against viral pneumonias or pneumonias cauesd by other types of bacteria.

Two types of pneumococcal vaccines are currently available. Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine(Pneumovax 23) and pneumococcal conjugate vaccine(Prevnar 13) are both given to adults. Pneumovax 23 protects against 23 different types of Streptococcal pneumoniae bacteria. It is not effective for children. Prevnar 13 is given to both children and adults and provides excellent immunity.

The CDC recommends all adults over the age of 65 receive the Prevnar 13 vaccination, as well as the Pneumovax vaccination. Adults ages 19-64 may receive 1 dose of Pneumovax before age 65 if they have chronic heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or smoke cigarettes. Immunocompromised individuals ages 19-64 are also eligible for both Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax. Many adults will require a booster.

The vaccines are quite effective at preventing pneumococcal pneumonia. However, many eligible adults are simply not receiving their vaccines! Talk with your provider about your vaccination status!