Pneumococcal disease (noo-muh-KOK-uhl) causes thousands of infections every year in the United States. It’s more common in children, but it’s most likely to cause serious complications in adults. The good news is that pneumococcal vaccines can help prevent the disease.

There are 2 types of pneumococcal vaccines:

  • PCV13 for all children younger than 2 years old and people age 2 years and older with certain health conditions. In addition, older adults may discuss and decide, with their vaccine provider, to receive PCV13.
  • PPSV23 for older adults, people age 2 and older with certain health conditions, and adults who smoke cigarettes.

Why are pneumococcal vaccines important?

Pneumococcal disease is contagious, meaning it spreads from person to person. It can lead to different kinds of health problems — including serious infections in the lungs, lining of the brain and spinal cord, and blood.

Pneumococcal disease is especially dangerous for babies, older adults, and people with certain health conditions.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent pneumococcal disease.

What is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is caused by a type of bacteria. Some people get the germs that cause pneumococcal disease, but don’t get sick — these people are called “carriers.” But others may get ear infections and sinus infections. And sometimes, pneumococcal disease can lead to serious infections like pneumonia, meningitis, bacteremia, and sepsis.

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can cause symptoms like:

  • Fever and chills
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing

Older adults with pneumonia may also feel confused or have low alertness (not be fully aware of what’s happening around them).

Meningitis is inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. It can cause symptoms like:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Feeling confused

Babies may have other symptoms, like being less active than usual, fussing, throwing up, and not wanting to eat.

Bacteremia is an infection of the bloodstream that can cause symptoms like:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Low alertness (not being fully aware of what's happening around you)

Sepsis is the body’s extreme reaction to an infection. It can cause symptoms like:

  • Fast heart rate or low blood pressure
  • Fever, chills, or feeling very cold
  • Feeling confused
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe pain or discomfort

Pneumococcal bacteria spread through droplets in the air — like when someone who has the bacteria in their nose or throat coughs or sneezes. Learn more about pneumococcal disease.

Who needs to get pneumococcal vaccines?

All infants, young children, and adults age 65 years and older need to get vaccinated against pneumococcal disease.

See the routine vaccination schedule for:

Pneumococcal vaccines are also recommended for people who:

  • Have long-term health conditions, like heart disease or asthma
  • Have weakened immune systems
  • Smoke cigarettes

PCV13 vaccine

The PCV13 vaccine is recommended for:

  • All children younger than age 2 years (4 doses)
  • People age 2 years and older who have certain health conditions (1 dose)
  • Adults age 65 years and older can discuss and decide, with their vaccine provider, to get PCV13 (1 dose)

PPSV23 vaccine

The PPSV23 vaccine is recommended for:

  • All adults age 65 and older (1 dose)
  • People age 2 years and older who have certain health conditions (doses vary by condition)
  • Adults who smoke cigarettes (1 dose)

Talk with your doctor about how to protect your family from pneumococcal disease.

Who should not get pneumococcal vaccines?

You should not get a pneumococcal vaccine if you have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to that particular pneumococcal vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine.

Be sure to tell your doctor before getting vaccinated if you:

  • Have serious allergies of any kind
  • Are pregnant

If you’re sick, you may need to wait until you’re feeling better to get a pneumococcal vaccine.

What are the side effects of pneumococcal vaccines?

Side effects from pneumococcal vaccines are usually mild and go away in a few days.

PCV13 vaccine

In adults, side effects of the PCV13 vaccine may include:

  • Pain, swelling, or redness where the shot was given
  • Fever
  • Not feeling hungry
  • Feeling tired
  • Headache

Side effects in children may include:

  • Redness or swelling where the shot was given
  • Drowsiness
  • Not wanting to eat
  • Mild fever
  • Fussing

Young children who get the PCV13 vaccine at the same time as the flu shot could be at increased risk for seizures (sudden, unusual movements or behavior) caused by fever.

PPSV23 vaccine

Side effects of the PPSV23 vaccinemay include:

  • Pain or redness where the shot was given
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Feeling tired

Like any medicine, there’s a very small chance that pneumococcal vaccines could cause a serious reaction. Keep in mind that getting a pneumococcal vaccine is much safer than getting pneumococcal disease. Learn more about vaccine side effects.

Where can I get more information about pneumococcal vaccines?

Vaccine Information Statements (VISs) have detailed information about recommended vaccines. Read the VISs for vaccines that protect against pneumococcal disease:

Get vaccinated

Getting vaccinated is easy. Vaccines are available at the doctor’s office and many pharmacies — and most are covered by insurance.

Find out how to get vaccinated.

Content created by Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy (OIDP)
Content last reviewed