By Katherine Vu, PharmD Sep 27, 2022 • 5 min
Pneumococcal disease refers to any infection caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus.
The bacteria can cause severe infections of the lungs, blood and lining of the brain. These infections are common in young children but are most life-threatening in older adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two pneumococcal vaccines that are very good at preventing serious pneumococcal infections:
- Prevnar 13 or PCV13 (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine)
- Pneumovax 23 or PPSV23 (pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine)
They are sometimes also referred to as pneumonia vaccines.
What is the difference between these two vaccines?
There are two differences between the two vaccines: how many types of bacteria it protects against and how the vaccine is made.
Prevnar 13 is the brand name for the PCV13 vaccine. The PCV13 is a conjugate vaccine. This means that it contains the sugar part of a bacteria and a protein. The 13 tells you that it protects against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria. You might hear it referred to as the “new pneumonia vaccine.” Prevnar 13 replaced the Prevnar (PCV7) vaccine, which only protected against seven types of pneumococcal bacteria.
Pneumovax 23 is the brand name for the PPSV23 vaccine. The PPSV23 is a polysaccharide vaccine. A polysaccharide is a sugar molecule that is often found on the surface of bacteria. This vaccine contains only the sugar part of the bacteria. The 23 tells you that it protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria.
Both vaccines help protect against infection of the blood and lining of the brain. The PCV13 vaccine also helps protect against pneumonia.
At what age should I get these vaccines?
PCV13 is recommended for:
- All children younger than the age of 2
- People age 2 and up with certain medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease
- Adults age 65 and older after discussion with your healthcare professional
PPSV23 is recommended for:
- People ages 2 to 64 with certain medical conditions
- Adults ages 19 to 64 who smoke cigarettes
- All adults age 65 and older
How often do I need to get shots for pneumonia?
How often you should receive a pneumococcal vaccine depends on your age and medical condition. If you have questions about how many or which pneumonia vaccines you need, talk to your healthcare provider.
What are the side effects of the PCV13 and PPSV23 vaccines?
With all vaccines and medications, there is always a chance for side effects. Most people experience only mild side effects after pneumococcal vaccination. They are generally mild and quickly go away on their own. Mild side effects, such as pain or tenderness at the injection site and fever, can happen after getting either vaccine. Because the PCV13 contains more than just the sugar part of a bacteria, more side effects can occur with the PCV13. These side effects include loss of appetite, feeling tired, headache and chills. Talk to your healthcare provider before getting a pneumococcal vaccine if you have ever had a severe allergic reaction to any vaccine.
I just turned 65 and my doctor recommended that I get both pneumonia vaccines. What schedule should I follow?
PCV13 should be given first. Then PPSV23 can be given at least one year later. PCV13 and PPSV23 should not be given at the same time.
What happens if I get the pneumonia vaccine twice?
Generally, getting extra doses of a vaccine does not increase your risk of serious side effects. However, with the pneumonia vaccine, you are more likely to get pain or tenderness at the injection site if the doses are given too closely together. In this case, it is the spacing of the vaccines rather than the number of doses that increases your risk. This is why it is important to follow the guidelines for getting your pneumonia vaccine. Always talk to your healthcare provider before getting any vaccine.
Katherine Vu is a health outcomes pharmacist.
Published June 2022.