Many people are surprised to hear that a vaccine is available to protect adults and young children against many strains of pneumococcal bacteria, which are responsible for most cases of bacterial pneumonia in this country.
A vaccine called PCV13, or Prevnar 13, is given to children younger than two years, to adults 65 years or older, and to children and younger adults with certain conditions that make them more susceptible to pneumonia. Another vaccine, PPSV23, or Pneumovax 23, is given to adults 65 or older (they’re advised to get both vaccines, beginning with PCV13), as well as children and younger adults with certain higher-risk conditions. Other candidates for the pneumonia vaccines are people who smoke, drink too much alcohol, or have diabetes, a weakened immune system, or heart, lung, or kidney disease.
In young children, PCV13 is given as three doses starting at two months, followed by a booster at 12 to 15 months. Adults need only a single dose of PCV13. The PPSV23 vaccine is given as a single dose to people who are advised to receive it, including adults 65 or older. Booster doses are sometimes recommended; check with your doctor. As with the flu shot, the vaccine has few side effects, usually nothing more than a sore arm. Note that the vaccine does not protect against viral pneumonia or other infectious causes of pneumonia.
For full recommendations on pneumococcal vaccination, see this CDC web page.