Ask a Pharmacist

Can You Get Pneumonia from The Pneumonia Vaccine?

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by Cindy Cho, PharmD Candidate Class of 2019,
The University of Arizona College of Pharmacy

In short, no. You cannot get pneumonia from the pneumonia vaccine. With all of the news coverage about vaccines, it is important to equip yourself with the knowledge on what vaccines are, how they work, and why they don’t cause disease, so you can make an informed decision on your health.

What is a vaccine?

A vaccine is a substance that contains very small amounts of weakened or dead germs to stimulate your body to produce immunity against certain diseases. Before the invention of vaccinations, the only way a person’s body can gain immunity to certain diseases is to (hopefully) survive an infection from the germ that causes the disease. For example, if a person gets pneumonia, an infection of the lung, from a certain germ and survives, their body will remember that specific germ if it were to come across it again. By remembering the germ, the body can protect itself and fight off the infection more efficiently to prevent sickness in the future. Vaccines provide a similar immune system response to help the body create immune system cells to remember disease-causing germs to protect your body, but the best part is that vaccines don’t come with the risks of getting the actual disease or its associated complications. Some vaccines can provide protection against multiple types of germs that cause the same disease to better protect against epidemics.1

What are pneumonia vaccines?

Now that you understand how vaccines work, let’s talk about the pneumonia vaccines! There are two pneumonia vaccines intended for use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which includes the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or Prevnar 13) and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23 or Pneumovax 23).2 Both of these pneumonia vaccines contain inactivated, or dead, germs. Because these vaccines contain dead germs, they cannot replicate in the body or cause disease.1 The differences between the two pneumonia vaccines are shown below:

  • Prevnar 13: this is a conjugated vaccine, which means it contains a protein that is joined to a part of dead bacteria to improve the protection the vaccine provides. Doctors give this vaccine to children at 2, 4, 6, and 12 through 15 months old. Young children need multiple doses of this vaccine to boost their protection since their immune system is not yet mature. Adults who need this vaccine only get a single dose. The vaccine has 13 in its name because it helps protect against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria that most commonly causes serious infections in children and adults.2
  • Pneumovax 23:  this is a polysaccharide vaccine, which means it is made to look like the surface of certain bacteria in order to help the body build protection against that germ. Doctors give a single dose of this vaccine to people who need it. CDC recommends one or two additional doses for people with certain chronic medical conditions. The vaccine has 23 in its name because it helps protect against serious infections caused by 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria.2

 So, who needs the pneumonia vaccines?

Great question! Pneumonia disproportionately affects the young, the elderly, and the immunocompromised, so the CDC recommends these vulnerable patient populations to receive the pneumonia vaccines.3 The CDC created an immunization schedule that outlines when the two pneumonia vaccines should be received.

CDC recommends vaccination with the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or Prevnar 13®) for:2

  • All children younger than 2 years old
  • All adults 65 years or older
  • People 2 through 64 years old with certain medical conditions*

CDC recommends vaccination with the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23 or Pneumovax23®) for:2

  • All adults 65 years or older
  • People 2 through 64 years old with certain medical conditions*
  • Adults 19 through 64 years old who smoke cigarettes

*Certain medical conditions such as: chronic heart disease, lung disease, liver disease, diabetes, HIV, or certain cancers warrant some adults to receive the pneumonia vaccines before the age of 65.4

What are the side effects of the pneumonia vaccines?

Reactions to the pneumonia vaccine can occur, such as cold-like symptoms, but it is important to realize that those are adverse reactions to the vaccine and not pneumonia itself. Talk to your doctor if you have allergies to any ingredients in vaccines. Below are common adverse reactions to the pneumonia vaccines:

Mild side effects reported with Prevnar 13 can include:2

  • Reactions where the shot was given
    • Redness
    • Swelling
    • Pain or tenderness
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fussiness (irritability)
  • Feeling tired
  • Headache
  • Chills

Mild side effects reported with Pneumovax23 can include:2

  • Reactions where the shot was given
    • Redness
    • Pain
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches

Why are the pneumonia vaccines important?

Vaccines, like the pneumonia vaccines, can prevent or decrease the severity of diseases. Unfortunately, around 50,000 people die from pneumonia in the United States each year.3 It is passed along through airborne droplets, such as from a cough or sneeze, so it is a highly contagious infection.2 It is crucial to receive the pneumococcal vaccine to not only protect yourself but to protect your loved ones around you. Especially if you have a breathing condition like asthma or COPD, it is important to have the pneumonia vaccines to prevent respiratory infections that can potentially make your breathing worse. Talk to your provider or local pharmacy if you are due for your pneumonia vaccine today.

References:

  1. Principles of Vaccination. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/prinvac.html. Published September 8, 2015. Accessed February 14, 2019.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/pneumo/public/index.html. Published December 6, 2017. Accessed February 14, 2019.
  3. Top 20 Pneumonia Facts (2018). American Thoracic Society.  https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/top-pneumonia-facts.pdf. Accessed February 14, 2019.
  4. Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule for ages 19 years or older, United States, 2019. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/adult.html#note-pneumo. Published January 2019. Accessed February 14, 2019.

 


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