What You Need to Know About the Pneumococcal Vaccine

August 30, 2023

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Have you heard of the pneumococcal vaccine? It may not be one of the most well-known vaccinations, but it’s just as important as the flu shot for some groups of people. If you are over 65 and have never gotten the pneumococcal vaccine, here’s what you need to know.

What is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease refers to any infection that arises from a specific bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. You might not have heard of pneumococcal disease, but you’ve probably heard of ear infections, sinus infections and pneumonia. These can all be examples of pneumococcal infections.

Although these infections are mild in many people, they can carry risk of serious illness for certain people. The vaccine protects against severe, potentially fatal pneumococcal infections such as pneumonia. Experts recommend that people with certain chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disease and adults older than 65 get the pneumococcal vaccine.

Do I need to worry about pneumococcal infections?

Although pneumococcal disease is not as common as the flu, it still affects thousands every year. In fact, experts estimate that around 6,000 people die each year from pneumococcal disease. Vaccination can prevent pneumococcal related death.

What is invasive pneumococcal disease?

Sometimes, a pneumococcal infection becomes invasive, meaning it infects parts of your body that are typically healthy. Invasive infections are usually serious. Examples of severe pneumococcal infections can include:

  • Pneumococcal pneumonia: This is the most common disease caused by pneumococcal infection. People with pneumococcal pneumonia may have a fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or chest pain. Each year, pneumococcal pneumonia causes about 400,000 hospitalizations and leads to death in up to 7% of patients.
  • Bacterial meningitis: About half of all cases of bacterial meningitis are caused by pneumococcal infection. Signs of bacterial meningitis may include headache, vomiting, fever and even seizures. Pneumococcal-caused bacterial meningitis is incredibly serious and is fatal in nearly 1 in 4 adults who get it.

Why should older adults get the vaccine?

Older adults often need only one shot to get vaccinated for pneumococcal disease. You may get the vaccination earlier if you have certain chronic health conditions, such as liver disease, lung disease, diabetes, or if you smoke cigarettes.

The pneumococcal vaccine is extremely effective. In adults age 65 and older, the vaccine protects 75% of adults from getting invasive pneumococcal disease.

Who shouldn’t get the pneumococcal vaccine?

Like other vaccines, the pneumococcal vaccine is safe for most people. You should talk to your doctor if you have:

  • A known allergy to any ingredient in the vaccine
  • A history of allergic reactions or severe symptoms after getting any vaccine
  • A fever on the day of your appointment

Schedule an appointment

If you are older than 65 or have chronic health conditions, ask your doctor about the pneumococcal vaccine. To schedule an appointment, find an Adventist Health provider near you.